Denison clinches NCAC Tourney berth with sweep of Lords
Following a doubleheader sweep of Kenyon College, the Denison Big Red has clinched one of four spots in next week's North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament. Denison rallied with a six-run eighth inning in game one to eventually knock off the Lords, 9-8 in 11 innings to take the opener. In game two, Connor Murphy went the distance as DU rolled to a 7-2 victory.
Since the NCAC cross-over series' are technically regular season games, the two teams will still play on Sunday to close out their respective schedules. The outcome of the game will have no effect on who advances to the conference tournament since that was decided by Denison's sweep.
In game one, it was all Kenyon early as the Lords took a 4-2 lead into the top of the eighth inning. That's when KC shortstop, Zack Karson gave his team even more breathing room with a towering home run over the wall in left field off Murphy, who was on in relief of Denison starter Kyle Colgain. Up until the eighth inning, Denison had strung together 11 hits but they had only two runs to show for it. In the eighth, five hits and a pair of costly errors on the Lords would get DU back into the contest.
Kyle Clemmenson would lead off the inning by reaching on an error by Karson at short. Ryan Mulligan followed with a base hit and Nick Marsit would load the bases with a single to centerfield. After Alex Kendall relieved KC starter Tyler Dierke, Ryan Loehnert stroked an RBI single to left, scoring Clemmenson.
Andrew Touhy would reach on an error by the third baseman, moving everyone up a base and scoring Mulligan. Still with nobody out, Tim Duxbury would single through the left side, scoring Loehnert. The Lords would record their first out of the inning when Brandon Morgan's sacrifice bunt moved Touhy to third and Duxbury to second. That sacrifice would pay off later when Charlie Apfelbach extended his hitting streak to 25 games with a two-run single to center.
The Big Red now led 8-6 heading into the bottom of the ninth, but Kenyon would fight back with two runs off two Denison errors.
Duxbury would take the hill in the 10th inning for Denison and he would retire six of the seven batters he faced. In the 11th inning, Marsit drew a one-out walk and Jake Meegan doubled to the gap in right-center, putting runners on second and third with one out. The Lords intentionally walked Touhy to load the bases in hopes of a double play. Duxbury had other ideas as he roped the game-winning single to right center to lock up a wild game one win for the Big Red.
Duxbury not only won the game at the plate, he also got the win on the mound. That improved his record to 6-2 on the year. Mulligan was 3-for-5 with two RBIs and one run scored. Loehnert also went 3-for-4 with one run scored and one RBI. Kyle Clemmenson was 2-for-6 with two doubles. Mike Jeffers (2-4) took the loss for Kenyon in relief.
Despite pitching 2.1 innings in game one, Murphy got the start in the nightcap and he would get some help from his offense in the early innings. Denison scored three runs in the first inning off a two-run single by Mulligan and a fielders choice by Marsit that scored Clemmenson. Apfelbach also relieved any additional pressure that comes with any lengthy hitting streak with a base hit to left field in his first at-bat, extending his streak to a school-record 26 games.
In the third inning, Denison would score three more runs. The first coming off a throwing error on a sacrifice bunt by Duxbury. Meegan would follow with an RBI single to left, and Lowell Hall would end up driving in Duxbury on a sacrifice fly to left field.
One inning later, Mulligan would triple to the alley in right-center, scoring Clemmenson to give DU a 7-0 lead.
Murphy would take it from there as he scattered eight hits and two runs to earn the complete game victory. With the win, he improved to 4-5 on the season. On the day he pitched 11.1 innings and threw 135 pitches with 103 going for strikes. He struck out only two but he pitched to contact and let his defense do their job as Kraus and Marsit combined for eight putouts in their outfield positions in game two.
Denison improves to 24-14 overall and 12-6 in the NCAC with the sweep, marking the most wins by a Big Red baseball team since the 2008 squad won 27 contests. The 24 victories also marks the fifth-best win total in program history.
Kenyon College falls to 20-16 overall and 7-11 in conference play. The two teams will play the third and final game of the series on Sunday at Big Red Field in Granville. The first pitch is scheduled for 12 p.m. and will be broadcast live by the Denison Sports Network beginning at 11:55 a.m.