AVON LAKE, Ohio – A two-run first got the Miami baseball team off to a nice start, but Buffalo scored five-straight runs before holding off a rally to top the RedHawks 6-5 on the opening day of the Mid-American Conference Tournament on Wednesday.
The setback drops MU (29-26) into the elimination bracket of the tournament and snaps its seven-game winning streak.
“This wasn’t the start we wanted, but this tournament has a lot of good teams and you aren’t going to win every close game,” Miami head coach Danny Hayden said. “Our guys played a tough game today. I wish we could’ve made some better adjustments earlier. We are still in this thing and hopefully we can go ahead and win four or five games and win this thing. We have a chip and a chair, we’ll come back out tomorrow and put this game behind us.”
Recently crowned MAC Pitcher of the Year Seth Varner started the tournament where he finished the regular season, by racking up strikeouts. The senior lefty fanned Jimmy Topps and Nick Sinay to open the contest, passing Buddy Schultz for second all-time with 113 strikeouts on the season. Matt Pollock blooped a two-out single for an early base runner to keep the inning alive for Tyler Mautner, but Varner fanned him to strike out the side in the first.
The RedHawks put two quick runs on the board in the bottom of the first thanks to consecutive two-out RBI singles by Max Andresen and Matt Honchel that plated Ryan Elble and Gary Russo, who reached earlier on an infield hit and a walk.
Buffalo (25-24) used four hits and a walk to tie the score in the second inning. Topps singled in the first round by slicing one to left field and Sinay beat out an infield hit with the bases loaded and two down to even the score at 2-2.
The Bulls set down the RedHawks in order to end the second and went right back at it against Varner in the third. After loading the bases with one out for the second-straight frame, Mike Scarcello chopped a two-run single over the outstretched glove of Dan Walsh down the third base line to put Buffalo ahead 4-2. UB starter Kevin Hughes shut the door in the next half inning, setting MU down in order for the second-straight frame.
In the top of the fifth, Kyle Brennan launched his second home run of the season, a solo shot that put the Bulls ahead 5-2 midway through the contest. The RedHawks responded in the bottom of the frame as Steve Sada and Elble led off the frame with back-to-back doubles to cut into the deficit. Two batters later, Elble scored from third on a UB error to make it a 5-4 contest with one out. With the tying run on, Hughes avoided further trouble by ending the frame with a strikeout and a pop out.
With Miami inching closer, Hughes went through the next three frames yielding only a two-out single to Dan Walsh in the seventh inning. Buffalo added an insurance run in the top of the ninth on Thomas Richards’ two-out RBI single, putting Mu into a 6-4 hole entering its final at-bat.
Things got off to a promising start in the bottom of the ninth when Chad Sedio singled to start the frame and moved to third two batters later after Sada cued a double down the right field line to put the tying runs into scoring position.
Sada’s hit chased Hughes from the mound and UB summoned Mike Kaelin out of the pen to close it out. Elble brought the Red and White another run closer with his fly ball plating Sedio for a sacrifice fly to make it a 6-5 contest. Dan Walsh wouldn’t bite at four offering out of the zone to draw a walk and put the winning run on base. However, Kaelin ended the contest by inducing a fly out to center field.
Varner (7-3) was saddled with the loss after allowing five runs on 12 hits in seven innings. However, the senior did strike out 12 batters while walking only two in those frames and allowed only one run in his final four innings of work. His strikeout total from Wednesday’s contest gives him a school record 123 this season, passing Dave Swartzbaugh’s prior record of 120 from the 1989 season.
“I’m proud of Seth, he’s had a tremendous season for us,” Hayden said. “He pitched a strong game, but we didn’t help him out enough to get a win. I am proud of everyone on the team and I know we will fight hard tomorrow.”
Offensively, the Red and White got 2-for-4 games out of Elble, Andresen and Sada with Sada doubling twice and Elble driving in two runs while scoring two more.
The RedHawks will try to keep their season alive in the elimination bracket against either Akron or Central Michigan on Thursday at 1 p.m.