Northwest avoided an early disaster Monday to advance in the Class 1 Missouri Baseball Tournament at home.
Mustang starter Connor Tichenor was roughed up in the first inning, allowing one run with the bases loaded, and was chased in the second in favor of Rylan Chamberlin after loading the bases in four batters.
Meanwhile, Drexel lefty Trevor Gunnels was tossing a no-hitter through four innings.
Luckily, it was Chamberlin’s day, as well as Northwest’s middle of the order. The Mustangs wore down the Drexel (8-10) defense and scored eight runs in the final three innings of an 8-4 victory over the Bobcats.
Northwest head coach Justin Wiskur said his batsmen shed layers of intimidation with each at-bat.
“Those first four or five innings, (Grunnels) was hitting whatever spot he wanted to,” Wiskur said. “And our guys would just kind of come back in like they haven’t seen something like that before. We talked to them about changing our approach – you know, shortening up, using the opposite-field approach – and you know good things happen when you put the ball in play hard.”
Good things also happened when Chamberlin stepped on the mound. He played fireman for Northwest, swapping positions with Tichenor at shortstop. Chamberlin pitched 5 1/3 innings, allowing one run in the sixth inning and two runs charged to Tichenor in the second.
Chamberlin said he tried to stay calm on the mound with runners on.
“I had some pressure, but I just relaxed and threw strikes,” Chamberlin said. “I try to think about nothing.”
Chamberlin also drove in two RBIs going 3-3 with two doubles and runs apiece. He tied the game with a single and error at third to score Tanner Killion, who reached on a leadoff walk.
Alex Breshears reached on the first of three Drexel errors of the game, and nearly stole the lead from Drexel moments later. He was caught stealing on a suicide squeeze play in which Alex Brockman never bunted. Brockman doubled in Chamberlin for the go-ahead run on the next pitch, and later scored on a Baron Austin single.
“We put the squeeze play on,” Wiskur said. “I should have put the safety-squeeze on, but went ahead with the straight-squeeze, which is my fault. (Brockman) said he saw the ball outside and just kind of had a brain-fart moment.”
The top of the Northwest lineup was a combined 1-for-15 with five strikeouts against Grunnels. Drexel head coach Gerald Knight said the Bobcats have leaned on their dominant southpaw all season. The Mustangs scored their first run without having recorded a hit, instead reaching two errors and a walk.
“If Trevor was on – if he struck out 13 to 15 – we were going to win,” Knight said. “If he was in that eight to 11 range, we were going to struggle. And he got 10.
“We have a hard time making simple plays,” Knight said.
Last year, Drexel did not have enough student-athletes to field a baseball team.
“At the beginning of the year, I don’t think they thought we had a chance to do much,” Knight said. “For not playing baseball last year as a group, I think we did alright.”
The Mustangs (19-8) travel to Braymer, Missouri to face the Braymer Bobcats, District 16 champions, in the quarterfinals. First pitch is scheduled for 5 p.m. Wednesday.