For the third time in four years, Dallas Baptist University has been crowned the Missouri Valley Conference baseball tournament champion – beating surging Illinois State by a final of 10-6 in the title game on Sunday in Springfield after withstanding a late rally from the eighth-seeded Redbirds.
After five scoreless innings, the Patriots’ bats finally came to life as DBU plated six runs in a sixth inning that was highlighted by regular-season MVC batting champion Devlin Granberg’s three-run home run. But ISU, which had been relentless all tournament long, countered by chipping away with three runs in the bottom of the sixth and held No. 2 seed DBU scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings to keep within striking distance at 6-3.
DBU’s closer Seth Elledge limited the damage in the seventh inning by getting a strikeout and a fly out to right field. In the eighth, Elledge started to show signs of fatigue and allowed a pair of baserunners. Then, with two outs (and two strikes) in the inning, ISU’s Noah Sadler showed his flair for late-game magic – launching a three-run homer to tie the game at six.
With momentum swinging abruptly back toward the resilient Redbirds, Dallas Baptist punched back with four runs of its own in the top of the ninth. With the infield drawn in and runners at second and third, Granberg delivered again with a one-out RBI single to right. DBU would tack on three more runs in the form of a sacrifice fly RBI by Matt Duce and a two-run double by Tim Millard. The Patriots managed to retire Illinois State in order in the bottom of the frame to clinch the championship.
Winning a tournament title is nothing new for DBU, but adding another piece of hardware to the trophy case never gets old.
“It feels awesome,” said Granberg, who earned the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award. “The best thing is we were fighting for our season back there. It feels great for all the seniors, all the guys that have been here. It’s an awesome feeling.”
Although the Redbirds finished the year with a lowly 17-40 record, they were playing like a team of seasoned veterans throughout the conference tourney. Their team is comprised mostly of freshmen and sophomores, but it was awfully hard to tell by their composed play on the field.
“You’ve got to throw your hats out to those guys. Those guys fought every single inch,” Granberg said. “That was one of the better games I’ve ever been a part of. They came back, we punched, they came back. It was the perfect ending for this tournament.”
Unlike last season, Dallas Baptist had to win the MVC tournament to clinch an NCAA tournament berth. Granberg said they’re just grateful to still be playing.
“We’re just glad to be in. This could have been the last day to the season for us. We’re just happy to be in.”
DBU (and hopefully Missouri State) will find out tomorrow morning what the field of 64 looks like for the NCAA tournament, with the selection show starting at 11:00 a.m. CT on ESPN2.
2017 MVC Baseball All-Tournament Team
C – Dominic Bifano, Indiana State
1B – Jeff Zahn, Indiana State
2B – Derek Parola, Illinois State
3B – Tim MIllard, DBU
SS – Craig Shepherd, Evansville
DH – Matt Duce, DBU
UT – Nick Zouras, Illinois State
OF – Jameson Hannah, DBU
OF – Hunter Steinmetz, Missouri State
OF – Devlin Granberg, DBU
P – Brady Huffman, Illinois State
P – Jake Fromson, Missouri State
Most Outstanding Player
Devlin Granberg, DBU
Elite 18 Winner(Academic Award)
Gavin Fritz, DBU