By DSU Media Relations
CARY, N.C. – Call them the “Elimination Kids,” as the Statesmen (49-14) of Delta State University claimed their ninth elimination victory of the postseason with a 6-5 comeback win over the Mavericks (51-12) of Minnesota State University-Mankato Friday, June 1 to advance to Saturday’s NCAA DII Championship Game. The Statesmen scored six unanswered runs and finished the contest with nine hits and an error. The Mavericks scored their five runs on 12 hits with an error.
Down to their last five outs and trailing 5-0, the Statesmen began an improbable comeback in the bottom of the eighth on MSU. Pinch-hitter Chad Fortenberry jumpstarted the frame for DSU with a single to centerfield off Mavericks reliever Bryce Bellin. Back-to-back walks to Jordan Chovanec and Sam Kidd loaded the bases for DSU and forced Bellin from the game.
With one out and new Mavericks reliever Mahlon Zimmerman in the game, Ben Kingsley slapped a chopper to short that Conner McCallum booted for an error allowing Justin Badon, who pinch ran for Fortenberry, to score from third. Michael Vinson followed with a sac-fly RBI to the base of the centerfield wall, cutting the lead to 5-2.
As momentum began moving toward the Green-and-White, Jon Carnahan pushed it full tilt toward DSU with an RBI double down the left field line to make it 5-3. With Kingsley at third and Carnahan at second, Tyler Aldridge slapped a two-RBI single to left to tie the game at 5-5 and give the Statesmen new life.
Zimmerman coaxed a fielder’s choice out of Brent Langston to retire Aldridge and a flyout to right from Brent Kakwitch to end the threat.
Michael Vinson drove in the game-winning run in the bottom of the ninth with a single to left.
After Jordan Moore retired the Mavericks in order in the top of the ninth, the Statesmen slammed the door on MSU’s season in the bottom of the ninth and capped the most improbable of comebacks. With one out, Chovanec collected his first hit of the game on an infield single to second. Chovanec swiped second, forcing MSU to intentionally walk Kidd to setup a potential double play. Kingsley slapped a slow roller deep in the hole to short and beat out the play to load the bases.
With a trip to the NCAA DII College World Series Championship Game on the line and redemption on his mind from Thursday’s loss, Vinson slapped the game-winning single to left, scoring Chovanec from third, to claim the 6-5 victory.
“I never give up on this team and they haven’t given up on me this entire season,” DSU head coach Mike Kinnison stated in the postgame interviews. “We finally got something going in the eighth and made the adjustments necessary to pull it out in the end. Minnesota State is an excellent team and I want to congratulate them on a great season.”
Until the eighth inning, the Mavericks had been in complete control of the game with a 5-0 lead. MSU went up 1-0 in the top of the first on Matt Odegaard’s RBI double to left center off DSU starter Josh Branstetter.
Minnesota State pushed the lead to 5-0 and chased Branstetter from the mound in the top of the fourth. Lucas Skjefte, Matt Kuchenbecker, Patrick Dockendorf and Nolan Johnson all collected RBIs in the fourth.
Kinnison brought Moore out of the bullpen to quite the Mavericks and the junior from Calhoun City, Miss., got Odegaard to flyout to Vinson to end the inning.
Moore (8-1) settled in for the next five innings, allowing no runs on three hits with six strikeouts in the victory. MSU did not collect a hit after the seventh and Moore retired the last seven Mavericks to come to the plate in the game. Branstetter worked 3.2 innings and gave up five runs on nine hits with a walk and four strikeouts in the no decision.
Zimmerman (2-1) took the loss in relief after giving up three runs on five hits. Bellin also surrendered three runs on two hits in one inning of work.
MSU starter T.J. Larsen was brilliant from 6.0 scoreless innings, allowing just two hits by the Statesmen, but did not factor in the decision.
Aldridge once again led the Statesmen at the plate, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs. Vinson finished the day 1-for-4 with two RBIs as well.
Four Mavericks collected two hits each in the loss.
The Statesmen will face the Rams (45-10) of West Chester University in the NCAA DII College World Series National Championship Game on Saturday, June 2. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. EST/6 p.m. CST at Coleman Field. The Rams have advanced through their half of the bracket undefeated en route to the matchup. The game will be broadcast on the Statesmen Sports Network starting at 6:30 p.m. EST/5:30 p.m. CST with the DSU Alumni Association Statesmen Game Day Report. NCAA.com will also provide a webcast of the event.