Lions drop a pair to No. 6 Mules in MIAA opener

Joplin, Mo. -- The Missouri Southern Lions opened up MIAA action with two losses to the No. 6-ranked Central Missouri Mules Saturday afternoon (Feb. 27) at Joe Becker Stadium.

The Mules got on the board in the opener with an unearned in the first and made it 2-0 on a sacrifice fly by Chance Tuttle in the second inning.

Southern cut the lead in half in the bottom of the second as Patrick Deao singled to lead off the inning and scored on a successful squeeze bunt by CJ Matthews.

Starter CJ Maffei held the Mules scoreless the next two innings before the Mules scored once in the fifth and then went up 4-1 after Jon Wegener led off the sixth with a towering homer off the scoreboard. 

The Mules added another run in the seventh on an RBI single Frank Specht before the Lions tried to rally in the bottom of the frame.

Zak Porath doubled with one out and then scored on a single by Zach Caldwell.  Vince Pironti then doubled Caldwell to third to bring the tying run to the plate.  But Nick Phillips came on in relief and got the final two outs to preserve the victory for the Mules.

Maffei got the loss after going six innings and allowing only three earned runs.  Brooks Martin was the winning pitcher with 5 2/3 innings pitched and only one run allowed and seven strikeouts.

The nightcap turned into an offensive slugfest with both teams combining for 21 runs and 27 hits.

Tyler Ruch homered to lead off the second for the Mules and two Lion errors in the inning helped plate two more runners home for a 3-0 lead.

Wegener hit his second homer of the doubleheader in the fifth, a two-run shot that gave the Mules (7-1, 2-0 MIAA) a five-run lead.

Porath then homered to lead off the bottom of the fifth for the Lions first run of the game. 

The Mules took a commanding 9-1 lead with four runs in the top of the seventh.  The Mules scored just about every way imaginable.  Two runs were scored on a bunt squeeze by Wegener, one on a wild pitch and one on an RBI double by Ruch.  A passed ball after a strikeout that allowed Nick DeBiasse to reach first early in the inning led to all four runs being unearned. 

The Lions (2-7, 0-2 MIAA) weren't finished though and scored five runs in the bottom of the frame before recording their first out. 

Caldwell and Pironti both walked to get things going before a single by Taylor scored Caldwell and a double by Shayne Hoke scored both Pironti and Taylor.  The inning also featured an RBI single by Matthews and a bases-loaded walk to Trent Owens that cut the lead to 9-6.

Reliever Aaron Brett though quickly put an end to the Lions rally by fanning the final three hitters of the inning.

The Mules then put it away as John Oropeza hit a two-run single to fuel a five-run inning that made it an eight-run lead.

Lee Hall pinch hit in the ninth and singled in Matthews for the Lions' final tally of the night. 

Garrett Groom went seven innings for the Lions, with nine runs allowed but only four earned and eight strikeouts.

Matt Curtis got the win by going six innings and giving up only one run.

Matthews was a perfect 5-of-5 at the plate for the Lions in the second game, with one run scored and one RBI.

Taylor and Hoke each had two hits for the Lions in the nightcap.

The Lions and Mules will conclude the four-game series with another doubleheader tomorrow afternoon (Feb. 28) beginning at noon.