WARRENSBURG, Mo. – Creating a makeshift fishing pole out of a baseball bat and some twine, St. Mary’s redshirt Kevin O’Rourke stood in the dugout in the ninth inning of a tied game “fishing for runs” Friday.
His Rattlers proceeded to reel in the perfect catch.
Josh McElroy bunted in Esteban Raygoza for the go-ahead run and Derek Moczygemba delivered a two-run single to fuel a stirring, 5-2 comeback victory over No. 4 seeded Southern Arkansas in the second round of the NCAA Division II South Central Regional.
“It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience,” said Rattlers ace Rene Solis, whose eight-inning, seven-strikeout, 145-pitch masterpiece set the stage for their comeback, which extended the team’s winning streak to 11. Solis improved to 13-2 on the season with the win.
St. Mary’s (46-8), ranked No. 2 nationally and also seeded second in the double-elimination tournament, advanced to play sixth-seeded St. Edward’s – their Heartland Conference foe – at 11 a.m. Saturday at Central Missouri’s Crane Stadium.
While Raygoza (Sr., San Antonio), McElroy (Sr., Helotes, Texas) and Moczygemba (Jr., Bulverde, Texas) provided the fireworks in the ninth, it was centerfielder Billy Richard (Jr., Schertz, Texas) who made the comeback possible at all.
Richard’s two-run bomb in the eighth inning brought the Rattlers back into the game, tying things up at 2-2 on a night St. Mary’s offense looked like it might never get untracked after falling behind 2-0 in the third.
St. Mary’s had loaded the bases in the top of the first, but failed to register another hit until second baseman Mario Maldonado (Fr., El Paso, Texas) singled in the fifth.
But Richard lifted the Rattlers out of the drought – and he was treated like a guy who delivered the game-changing blow when he stepped back to the plate in the ninth.
“I’ve never been intentionally walked before,” he said, chuckling.
The walk loaded the bases for Moczygemba – who might have perceived the sequence as a bit of a slap in the face – and he proceeded to make the Muleriders pay with his two-run single.
Richard and Moczygemba led St. Mary’s with two RBIs apiece, while Maldonado went 2 for 3 with a run scored.
Muleriders ace James Baune pitched a gem of his own in a no-decision, striking out seven in 7 1/3 innings pitched. Offensively, Southern Arkansas struck big in the bottom of the third, as first baseman David Allday delivered a two-run single to right field with two away to put the Muleriders on the board first.
But the Rattlers’ bats eventually got going, setting the stage for a classic “Battle of the Saints” contest on Saturday.
At stake? Only a spot in the South Central Regional title game, which will be played Sunday.
“We’ll get some sleep and get ready to play,” St Mary’s Head Coach Charlie Migl said. “We know they’re going to be tough. They’ve played us tough all year. We’re looking forward to it.”