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Tigers split, earn spot in GPAC title game

Dakota Wesleyan University first baseman Neil Nagle stretches for the putout ahead of Northwestern’s Micah Linn in a Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament game Friday at Cadwell Park in Mitchell. (Nick McCutcheon/Republic)

From a 2-8 start in league play to one game away from a championship, the Dakota Wesleyan University baseball team has come a long way in 2014.

DWU earned a spot in the Great Plains Athletic Conference tournament championship game with a 10-8 win over Midland University in the Tigers’ first game Friday at Cadwell Park in Mitchell.

“It’s just been a positive weekend for us and we are right where we want to be,” DWU second baseman Cole Wenande said.

DWU (27-23) will play the winner of No. 2 seed Northwestern (Iowa) and No. 3 Midland in the final game of the GPAC tournament today at Cadwell Park.

The No. 5 Tigers fell to Northwestern 8-4 Friday in their second game, which was the first loss of the tournament for DWU.

After the loss to the Red Raiders, DWU coach Steve Gust told his team to think back to the beginning of the season. He asked them if they had a chance to play one game for a championship, they would take it, right?

The winner of the GPAC tournament will earn an automatic bid into the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round. DWU last won the GPAC title in 2009.

In the victory over Midland, the Tigers pounded out 13 hits, as Ben Spitznagel led the way with two hits and three RBIs.

Down 6-3 in the sixth inning, the Tiger offense exploded with seven runs to take the lead. After Tyler Johnson drove in the first run of the sixth inning for the Tigers, Spitznagel doubled with the bases loaded to plate two more runs for DWU. Jonah Johnson added a two-run single and a Warrior error resulted in another two runs to give the Tigers a 10-6 lead.

Midland closed the gap to 10-8 in the seventh, but Darrin Hager and Mickey Grant combined to pitch the final two innings for DWU without allowing a run.

Against Northwestern Friday night, the Tigers allowed six runs in the third inning with two outs. The Tigers allowed three hits and committed two errors in the inning. The Red Raiders added two runs in the fourth inning to build an 8-0 lead.

“That was a team loss and that was a bad inning by the entire team,” Gust said. “We played seven pretty good innings there and two bad ones. This team has bounced back all year and I expect nothing less.”

The Tigers rallied late, putting up three runs in the ninth inning, but the comeback fell short. Ben Ladner finished 2-for-4 for DWU, while Wenande added two RBIs. Chris Housley took the loss for the Tigers on the mound, pitching 3 1/3 innings and allowing eight runs (two earned) on four hits, while walking five.

Northwestern was lead by Skyler Wheeler with two hits and three RBIs, while Red Raider starting pitcher Matt Piocos threw eight innings, allowing one run on five hits and striking out eight.

Gust said he was not sure about the status of his pitching staff heading into the championship game, but said there is a possibility that Wes Snyder and Kyle Larson could pitch some after each throwing more than 100 pitches in DWU’s two wins on Thursday.

“We are going to try and piece it together,” Gust said. “It could be anybody. If (Larson and Snyder) can go, they have a chance to be in.

Midland plays Northwestern at 11 a.m. today at Cadwell Park, with the winner taking on DWU for the title 30 minutes after the game ends.

Midland 10, Morningside 3

Jordyn Van Atta went 3-for-5 with a double and three RBIs to help No. 3 Midland University beat No. 4 Morningside College 10-3 Friday at the Great Plains Athletic Conference baseball tournament at Cadwell Park in Mitchell.

Midland (40-17) advances to Saturday’s championship round with the win, while Morningside finishes its season 27-25. Zach Kinsella went 1-for-3 with three RBIs for Midland, which had 12 hits, and Bennett Schiltz earned the win on the mound. Morningside’s Adam Smith went 3-for-4 and John Russell took the loss.

Morningside 18, Mount Marty 10

Morningside scored 10 runs in the second inning en route to defeating Mount Marty College 18-10 in its first game of the second day of the GPAC baseball tournament Friday.

Adam Smith went 4-for-6 with three RBIs and a double for Morningside, while Nate Clark went 2-for-5 with four RBIs. Alex Groth earned the win, allowing two hits in 2 1/3 innings.

Julian Cutolo went 3-for-4 with an RBI for the Lancers, who had 11 hits and five errors in the loss. Dominic Wieseler suffered the loss on the mound, allowing 15 runs on nine hits in 4 1/3 innings.

Mount Marty ended its season 27-24.

Northwestern 24, Briar Cliff 8

Northwestern College tallied 28 hits and scored 10 runs in the seventh inning to blow past Briar Cliff University 24-8 Friday in the GPAC baseball tournament.

Briar Cliff finished its season 16-34 and was led by Matt Boswell, who went 3-for-5 with two RBIs and a double. Dylan Romo suffered the loss for Northwestern, allowing six runs on nine hits and striking out two in four innings.

Northwestern’s Josh Turner got the win after throwing two innings and holding the Chargers hitless. Skyler Wheeler went 6-for-7 with five RBIs, a double and a home run.