Loper magic comes up short in program's final home game

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KEARNEY, Neb.-- Catcher Josh Whisler went 4 for 6 and hit a two-run homer in the top of the 11th inning to help Pittsburg State outslug Nebraska-Kearney, 16-13, Sunday afternoon at Memorial Field.

By recording 13 of its 19 hits over the last four innings the Gorillas (29-16, 21-12) salvaged the final game of the series and move ahead of UNK (27-20, 20-13) into fourth place in the MIAA standings. Both teams have one series left, UNK at Missouri Western State and Pitt hosting Southwest Baptist.

On maybe the windiest day in Memorial Field history, the Lopers played its final home game. Team 58 posted a 15-6 mark in Kearney this year and almost had a comeback for ages.

"I want to thank the Kearney community not only the great support they've shown this season but also over my 15 years as head coach," said Loper skipper Damon Day. "I think they got entertained by some really good college baseball. Today it was a different kind of baseball due to the (weather) conditions but it still was a well-played game."

The Gorillas were down 10-6 with four outs left but three doubles down the left field line and a two-run homer to left center by Joven Afenir (2 for 5), his second of the game, capped a six-run eighth. The Gorillas then tacked on a key unearned run in its half of the ninth.

"I probably pitched Mitch (Robinson) too long and that's one me as head coach. We knew Thomas (Ruwe) was on fumes and didn't have a lot left. We were trying to massage Mitch through the eighth to get to (Eric) Sandoz. There was a plan behind it but it just didn't work out. Pitt made some adjustments and beat us with placement and short, compact swings," said Day.

Senior second baseman Scott Platt (2 for 6, two runs) led off the Loper ninth with a double to left center; that is the 140th two bagger of the season, breaking the mark of 139 set by the 2008 team. UNK had previously set new team marks for homers, extra base hits and strikeouts thrown in a season.

Sophomore third baseman Calvin Rudolph (2 for 6, two runs & three RBI's) laced another double to left center to bring home Platt but Cody White got a pop up to short for the second out. Junior leadoff hitter and center fielder Brett Young (3 for 7, two runs & five RBI's) was up next and, on a 1-1 pitch, hit a dramatic homer to left center that cleared the Memorial fence by a foot.

UNK had a great chance to win the game in its half of the tenth but White, with runners at first and second, got back-to-back swinging strikeouts.

"It kind of felt like we had to win it there. We got three runs in the ninth but that's asking a lot of our offense to do that again in the 11th inning against one of the better closers in the MIAA," said Day.

Throwing the final three innings, Sandoz (Austin, Texas) fanned four and walked none but saw Whisler hit his fourth homer of the year in the top of the 11th inning. Pitt used the wind to advantage today, hitting six long balls to two for UNK.

White worked a clean eleventh with the final out in Memorial Field history being a pop up to short. He improved to 2-0 by throwing the final four innings. Dante Richardson was the hurler before and allowed no runs between the sixth and eighth innings.

Making his 50th career start, Robinson (Golden, Colo.) threw 131 pitches and retired 11 of 12 before Pitt got hot in the eighth. Fanning eight and walking three, he shut out the Gorillas for three straight innings before a leadoff homer in the seventh.

Both teams had 19 hits with eight UNK starters having a multi-hit effort. That large group included redshirt freshman shortstop Peter Carlson (3 for 5, three runs & three RBI's) who went yard to dead center in the fourth.

Kearney closes out the 2018 regular season next weekend at Mo West (26-21, 18-15).