Pioneers find the come-back spirit

Marietta College barely had a pulse.

Down a run, 8-7, and with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning in the nightcap of a Community Day doubleheader Sunday at Don Schaly Stadium, Mike Hale stepped into the right side of the batter’s box.

Up to then, the 6-foot-3 senior first baseman from Dayton was 4-for-4 with two doubles and two runs-batted-in.

MC, No. 16 in the Division III baseball.com/NCBWA Top 25, wouldn’t have wanted anybody else to be swinging the aluminum.

Hale had only one thing on his mind: Get on base anyway he could.

Capital University junior right-hander Alex Mukensturm had other ideas. One more out, and the Crusaders would earn a split against the Pioneers. Earlier, in the first game of the twinbill, they’d given up a late unearned run and dropped a 2-1 decision to MC.

Mukensturm had been effective since he entered the game in relief in the seventh inning. He’d allowed just one hit, a double to Hale, the first Pioneer he faced. But, bearing down, he got out of the inning unscathed.

He then retired the Marietta side in order in the eighth and the first two Pioneer batters in the ninth.

Against Hale the second time around, Mukensturm got ahead of the MC hitter in the count. Ultimately, though, it came down to a 3-2 payoff pitch.

Mukensturm wound and delivered.

Hale didn’t offer — and after the pitch smacked the catcher’s glove, there was a brief hesitation. The Capital players on the diamond initially thought the game was over, and started to head towards the first-base dugout.

Ah, but not so fast.

“Ball,” the homeplate umpire said.

Marietta was still alive as Hale jogged to first base, and the Crusaders retreated to their defensive positions.

With the left-handed swinging designated hitter Connor Golden due to bat next for Marietta, Capital skipper Ryan Grice, playing the percentages, relieved Mukensturm and brought in senior southpaw Joseph Borkey.

On paper, it looked like a good move, but veteran MC head coach Brian Brewer countered it by subbing the right-handed swinging Michael Barnabei for Golden.

The Crusaders still needed one more out, and the Pioneers still needed to get Hale all the way from first to home for the equalizer.

Making things a little easier for MC, Hale got the steal sign and swiped second base to put himself in scoring position. Probably not many people at the ballpark expected that.

Kudos to Brewer for taking the initiative. No question about it, it was a gamble, but Hale actually stole the base with relative ease.

Meanwhile, Borkey got two strikes on Barnabei. The Crusader lefty only needed one more, but Barnabei, swinging late, lifted an opposite field drive just fair down the right field line.

Running with two outs, Hale scored the tying run, and Barnabei ended up at second with a double.

Next up, MC freshman third baseman Damian Yenzi singled sharply to center to plate Barnabei with the game-winner — and the Pioneer celebration began.

Capital looked a little stunned by the sudden turn of events.

But, like Yogi long ago said, “It ain’t over ’til it’s over.”

The Crusaders should’ve known that, especially playing against baseball tradition-rich Marietta College.

Ron Johnston is a Marietta Times sports writer, and can be reached at rjohnston@mariettatimes.com