The Fort Hays State baseball team rallied for another come-from-behind victory on Sunday (Feb. 16), completing the series sweep of New Mexico Highlands with a 7-6 victory. After opening the year with four wins over MSU Denver, the Tigers have now swept multiple series for the first time since 2016.
After trailing by as many as six in Saturday's game three victory, the Tigers (9-3) fell behind 5-0 through two innings in Sunday's finale. New Mexico Highlands (0-4) quickly jumped in front with a three-run home run in the first before tacking on two more runs in the second.
Tiger starter Ryan Ruder settled in after the first time through the lineup, holding the Cowboys scoreless over his final three innings of work and allowing just four baserunners.
The Tigers took their time getting the bats going on offense, with just two hitters reaching base over the first three frames. They had a great chance to cut into the lead with the bases loaded and no one out in the fourth, but NMHU starter Kalen Hammer worked out of the jam with two strikeouts and a groundout to maintain the 5-0 lead.
After Ruder posted another zero in the top half of the fifth, Fort Hays State got to work in the home half. Drake Angeron worked a walk and swiped his 12th bag of the season before coming in to score on a two-out double from Grant Schmidt.
Dylan Hamilton came out of the pen to open the sixth inning, tossing 3.1 strong innings of relief. The righty retired the first nine batters he faced, giving the Tiger offense a chance to complete the comeback.
Fort Hays State added two more runs in the sixth, closing within 5-3. Jared Maneth and Jaxson Webb opened the inning with consecutive walks, forcing Highlands to go to the bullpen. Cameron Polich, the Cowboy reliever, walked the first batter he faced to load the bases before a run came in to score on a passed ball. Griffin Brunson added another run with an RBI groundout, but Polich got out of the inning with a strikeout and another groundout.
The Tigers batted around in the seventh after another 1-2-3 inning from Hamilton, pushing across three runs to take their first lead of the afternoon, 6-5. Garrett Stephens led things off with a double into the right-field corner before walks to Corbin Truslow and Maneth loaded the bases. A pitch came inside and hit Webb in the ensuing at-bat, plating one run to trim the deficit to one.
Tyler Olson then came through with the bases-loaded hit the Tigers had been looking for all afternoon, driving in a pair with a sharp shot through the hole at short. Truslow slid in safely under the relay throw from left, putting the Tigers in front by one.
Hamilton made quick work of the Cowboys again in the eighth before Stephens provided what proved to be a very important insurance run. The senior catcher crushed a 1-0 pitch over the fence in left field, tallying his fifth home run of the season to give the Tigers a 7-5 advantage.
Hamilton got one out in the ninth before giving way to Jacob Douglas, who came on looking for his second save in as many days. The junior struck out the first batter he faced before the Cowboys made things interesting, rattling off consecutive singles to load the bases for Clayton Hale, the NMHU clean-up hitter. After allowing three home runs to Hale over the first three games of the series, the Tigers pitched him very carefully, ultimately walking him to drive in a run. Douglas bounced back with a six-pitch strikeout to secure the victory.
Ruder did not factor into the decision after allowing five runs and striking out five over five innings of work. Hamilton (1-0) did not give up a hit over his 3.1 innings on the bump, striking out three and allowing just the one run in the ninth. Douglas (2) earned the save after striking out two of the five batters he faced.
Stephens collected three of the seven hits for the Tigers, finishing a triple shy of the cycle. Stephens and Maneth both scored two runs while Olson drove in a team-high two RBI.
The Tigers will continue non-conference play with another home four-game series next weekend when CSU-Pueblo comes to town. The set begins with a single game on Friday (Feb. 21) at 3 p.m.