Searching for a spark during a frustrating season, the Fort Hays State University baseball team left Larks Park brimming with confidence on Wednesday after an exhilarating ninth inning against Washburn.
Undoubtedly the highlight of the season so far, the Tigers scored five runs in the ninth to pull off a dramatic rally, edging WU 8-7 after Clayton Basgall fought through a 13-pitch at-bat to draw a bases-loaded walk and bring in the winning run.
"It was unbelievable. Unbelievable excitement," FHSU coach Steve Johnson said. "The kids needed that. With the struggles and all that, that's the type of win there that gets you to believe."
Trailing by four runs entering the bottom of the ninth, the Tigers batted around, taking advantage of a Washburn error with two outs to get the game tied at 7.
Addison Kaasch walked with two outs to load the bases for Basgall, who fell behind in the count 0-2 but battled back to get it to a full count. He fouled off six straight pitches, then took ball four to plate the winning run.
"I've never seen anything like the end of the game," Johnson said. "I've never seen a hitter foul off six straight pitches on a 3-2 count and finally draw a walk.
"(Basgall's) a senior that understands what we want. All he showed right there was a win-the-next-pitch mentality. You can't go straight from 0-2 to a walk, you've got to win the next pitch. He did that. He just battled his tail off."
Fort Hays (13-21, 5-16 MIAA) fell behind 7-1 in the top of the fourth and was blanked for four straight innings entering the ninth.
Basgall led off the ninth by getting hit by a pitch before Alex Weiss grounded out to WU pitcher Matthew Hicks. Dayton Pomeroy then came through with a single and FHSU cut the deficit to three on Cody Starkel's sacrifice fly for the second out.
The Ichabods went to their closer, Zach Linquist, after Ryan Grasser singled to keep the Tigers alive. Linquist gave up a walk to Jordan Wilkerson, and Marcus Altman followed with a two-run single to center to bring FHSU within a run.
Washburn then missed a chance to end the game when Ichabod second baseman Jake Hahn booted a grounder off the bat of FHSU pinch hitter Bryce Baumwart, allowing Wilkerson to score for the tying run before Kaasch and Basgall drew back-to-back walks.
"We could never get anything timely, and then guys stepped up the last inning," Johnson said. "(Washburn) helped us a little bit with the error with two outs and not catching a ball in foul territory. But kids stepped up and had great ABs."
Washburn (10-22, 4-17 MIAA) jumped out to a 2-0 lead after Darian Abram led off the game with a double and Javis Larson followed with a triple. FHSU answered with a run in bottom of the first after Kaasch doubled and scored on Weiss' grounder to second.
Abram homered in the third to put WU up 3-1 and the Ichabods tacked on four runs in the fourth to open up a 7-1 lead.
FHSU plated two runs in the bottom of the fourth, with Wilkerson delivering a two-out triple and scoring on a Washburn error. Basgall was later hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to bring in another run.
Fort Hays had a chance to draw closer in the fifth but left the bases loaded.
"We had a lot of opportunities to get the timely hit with a good AB, and we didn't," Johnson said. "We've got to get better offensively. These MIAA mid-week games, you've got to score runs to win. We've got to continue to plug and fight and get those good ABs going.
"I think the percentage of quality ABs are getting better with every game we play. We still have a long ways to go to get to where we need to be."
Tiger starter Ben Ramberg went 3 2/3 innings before being replaced Ryan Ruder, who came up huge for the Tigers. Ruder didn't allow a run and gave up just four hits in 5 1/3 innings of relief to earn the win.
"I thought Ben was fine," Johnson said. "His stuff was good. It wasn't his usual problem of being down in the count and walking people. When they swung the bat today, it was just never at anybody and it was damaging.
"He kept us around. And fortunately Ryan came in today and was outstanding. It was great to see."
Kaasch, Grasser and Altman each had two hits for the Tigers, who finished with 10 for the game.
The Tigers will look for their third straight win at noon Thursday against William Jewell at Larks Park.
"They got it done and hopefully that's something they can build off of," Johnson said. "I know it was fun to see them smile. A very good thing for us right now."