KEARNEY, Neb. — It looked as if the Fort Hays State University baseball team would end a pair of unfortunate streaks a couple times in Tuesday’s game at Nebraska-Kearney, but the Lopers managed a walk-off victory thanks to some assistance from the visitors.
The Tigers (17-23, 11-18 MIAA) started the eighth inning in a 10-7 hole but went to the bottom half with the lead.
Senior center fielder Connor Ross started the rally with a one-out triple and scored on a groundout by the ensuing batter, shortstop Nick Hammeke. Austin Unrein and Alex Weiss each earned free passes on 3-2 pitches before Joe Mapes was hit by a pitch to load the bases.
Right fielder Caleb Cherryholmes was hit by a pitch to bring Unrein in before Trevor Hughes drew the third walk of the inning to tie it at 10.
The Lopers (17-21, 14-15) then went to the bullpen to bring Sean Laughlin in, but he walked the first Tiger he faced, Alex King, to push the visitors ahead.
It put the Tigers six outs away from their first win against an opponent that scored at least 10 runs.
UNK, however, tied the game on wild pitch in the bottom half of the inning.
Unrein walked, stole second and reached third on a throwing error with two outs but was left there to end the inning.
The senior returned to the mound in an attempt to extend the game but had no such luck.
He walked the Loper leadoff batter before an errant throw on a sacrifice bunts put runners on the corners with no outs. Unrein hit the next UNK batter before issuing a bases loaded walk to end the game, extending FHSU’s six-game losing streak.
The Tigers led early, as well.
Mapes opened the scoring with a run-scoring single in the first before King made it 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the second.
UNK countered with a pair of runs in both the bottom of the third and fourth innings and led 4-2 to start the fifth.
Weiss made it a one-run game with an RBI single in the top of the fifth, but the Lopers got the run right back in the bottom half.
UNK catcher Kirk McLeod made it 7-3 with a two-run single in the sixth.
FHSU responded and tied the game with a big seventh, the first of consecutive four-run frames. Ross, Hammeke and Unrein connected on singles to open the inning, loading the bases with no outs and forcing a Loper pitching change.
Weiss drew a bases-loaded walk before Mapes got the Tigers within two with another timely single.
A passed ball allowed Unrein to score and the other Tigers to advance a base, which came in handy when Cherryholmes tied the game with a sacrifice fly to center.
FHSU reliever Jackson Rolfs was hurt by a throwing error in the bottom half of the inning and was replaced by Giles Fox after a fielder’s choice gave UNK an 8-7 lead.
Fox allowed a two-run single to the first batter he faced and walked the next, bringing Unrein into the game with one out in the inning.
Unrein handled the rest of the game and took the loss, despite being one of six Tigers to appear.
No Tiger recorded more outs than freshman Logan Herd, the first pitcher to replace starter Kyle Vogt, who lasted 2.2 innings.
Ross, Unrein, Weiss, Mapes and Cherryholmes each had two hits and combined for 10 of the Tigers’ 11 hits. Weiss, Mapes, Cherryholmes and King each plated two runs.
The Lopers finished with 14 hits, while each team committed three errors.
The Tigers, 12th in the MIAA standings, will enter the weekend series at fifth-place Missouri Southern needing to make up ground to earn an invite to the eight-team conference tournament.
Nebraska-Kearney 12, Fort Hays State 11
FHSU 110 010 440 — 11 11 3
UNK 022 012 311 — 12 14 3
Vogt, Herd, Carr, Fox, Rolfs, Unrein and Hughes; Watson, Sievers, Gulzow, Dittman, Laughlin and McLeod. W: Laughlin (1-0). L: Unrein (1-1). 2B: Cherryholmes; Salamon. 3B: Ross.