St. Ambrose completed a worst-to-first turnaround in the Midwest Collegiate Conference baseball standings in walk-off fashion Saturday.
Rebounding from a 5-18 conference finish a year ago and picked for eighth in the league this year, the Fighting Bees earned the top seed for the upcoming league tournament and a share of the MCC regular-season championship by rallying for a 10-9, 10-inning victory over Mount Mercy.
One day after the Mustangs had limited St. Ambrose to four hits in a doubleheader sweep, the Bees clubbed 18 hits to earn the win at Modern Woodmen Park.
“All we talked about before the game was coming up with the big hit at the big moment and these guys got that done,” Bees coach Jim Callahan said. “They’ve lived in the cages since last season and through recruiting and through the work these guys put into it in the cages and in the bubble during the offseason, they gave themselves a chance to turn this thing around.”
St. Ambrose trailed 7-2 midway through the fourth inning before rallying to defeat the Mustangs, who finished one game behind the Fighting Bees (24-24, 16-8 MCC) in the league standings.
Run-scoring hits by Jonathan Golden and Sam Parsons inched St. Ambrose within a run twice, but Mount Mercy held the lead until Tyler Gilles opened the bottom of the eighth with a homer to tie the game at 8-8.
The Mustangs used a sacrifice fly by Brent Pankow to regain a 9-8 edge in the top of the 10th before St. Ambrose rallied.
Pinch hitter Connor Kretz drew a walk to open the inning and moved to third when Matt Rosenberger completed a 6-for-6 day at the plate by driving a one-out double off the fence in right.
Scott Blanchette then drove home the tying run with a single to left before Tom Prior plated Rosenberger with the game-winning sacrifice fly to left.
“We never gave up,” said Rosenberger, a freshman first baseman from Frankfort, Ill., who collected five singles before doubling in the 10th. “We got down, but we kept at it, kept chipping away. That’s what we’ve done all season.”
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St. Ambrose, winning its first regular-season conference title since 2008, sent a pair of freshmen to the mound against the Mustangs (26-24, 15-9).
Former North Scott prep Robert Copley worked the first 3 1/3 innings before the Fighting Bees found a successful change of pace in Tom Samansky, a left-hander from Chicago.
“He’s normally been a one-, two-inning guy, but he gave us a different look and Mount Mercy struggled a bit against some softer pitching,” Callahan said. “He was able to force some pop ups and get them to swing through some pitches.”
Samansky worked the final 6 2/3 innings, improving to 2-1 while limiting Mount Mercy to four hits and two runs, only one of which was earned.
“I tried to come out and go after batters and everything was working,” Samansky said. “My job was to keep us in the game to give the offense a chance to do its thing. They came around and got it done. It feels great to get first. It’s what we’ve been working for all year.”
St. Ambrose begins conference tourney play Tuesday at Peosta, Iowa.