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Tigers hold off Indians for CIC baseball title

By CHUCK LANDIS - clandis@chronicle-tribune.com

GAS CITY — While a conference championship was at stake, a young Mississinewa baseball team also had a chance to learn and grow Thursday afternoon.

The lesson was painful and Class 2A second-ranked Alexandria pulled out a 6-2 victory over the Indians at Atkinson Field to clinch the Central Indiana Conference title. Yet, coach Mike Scott did see his team grow up just a bit.

“Our team competed and there wasn’t a time where we felt like we were out of it,” Scott said. “It’s huge for our guys to have that kind of experience.”

Alexandria (21-4) jumped ahead 2-0 in the first inning and never trailed to wrap up the CIC with a perfect 7-0 record. Left-handed pitcher Rylan Metz kept the Indians hitters under control and went 2-for-3 at the plate including a double.

Ole Miss (8-7, 4-1 CIC) would have been in enviable position to win its second league title in three years with a victory. The Indians had pulled to within 2-1 in their first when Colin Yoder’s ground out plated Landen Swanner, who had doubled and moved up to third on an error.

Kole Stewart, the Tigers’ No. 9 hitter, homered off of Swanner in the second for a 3-1 advantage. Brennan Morehead’s solo homer opened the Tigers third, and they plated another run in the inning to go ahead 5-1.

Yet, the Indians had opportunities through the seventh inning to climb back in the game. But great defensive plays by Tigers’ right fielder Miller Abernathy and left fielder Bub Misner took away hits and runs, and the game ended with Ole Miss leaving the bases loaded.

“It’s a conference game and no conference game is ever easy,” said Jeff Closser, who won his third title in 13 years as Alexandria coach. The Tigers’ last previous CIC title was in 2013.

“If you look at our stats you will see we have hit all year long (.358 batting average),” Closser added. “Our pitching was good, but our defense I thought was awful and is something we need to shore up before tournament time.”

Two Tigers errors contributed to both Indians runs and another prolonged the seventh inning. But Abernathy’s over-the-shoulder catch with the bases loaded in the third took away a hit and likely three runs that could have tied it 5-all.

In the fourth, Cade Campbell laced a sharp single to left field, but Misner recovered quickly and his throw to third base gunned down Indians baserunner Drew Castanon. The Indians, seemingly set up for a big inning, failed to score.

“The ball in right field, that was three runs,” Scott said. “I cost us one run when I sent (Castanon), but I would have sent him nine times out of 10 and (Misner) made a great throw.”

Swanner’s double with two outs in the third scored Yoder and made it 5-2 and then Holden Brown drew a walk that loaded the bases prior to Abernathy’s catch.

Rain interrupted play for about 15 minutes following the fifth inning and both starting pitchers, Metz and Swanner, did not return to the mound when the game resumed. Metz departed having allowed six hits and two unearned runs with three walks and four strikeouts. Swanner had allowed seven hits, walked two and struck out six.

An error, Swanner’s third hit of the game and Kreigh Young’s infield dribbler down the third base line for a hit loaded the bases in the seventh. But Tigers reliever Trey Stokes induced a flyout to shallow left field and struck out the next batter to end the game.

“These are games you want to play,” Scott said. “We competed against a (No. 2-ranked) team and they have a really good team and don’t get cheated offensively and have a stable of (pitching) arms. We’re close but we need to find a way to get to that next level.”

Swanner finished 3-for-4 with the double and RBI and Yoder was 2-for-4 with an RBI. The Indians outhit the Tigers 8-7.

Metz and Morehead each finished 2-for-3 for Alexandria.

Mississinewa plays a doubleheader at Homestead, ranked eighth in Class 4A, beginning at 10 a.m. Saturday.