GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. -- Twice down to their final strike and trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth inning, the No. 2 Bellevue University baseball team rallied to stun (RV) Davenport University's bid for a trip to the Avista-NAIA World Series, defeating the Panthers 6-5 win to force the "If Necessary" game of the NAIA Opening Round Tournament on Thursday afternoon.
With the score 5-4 with two outs in the ninth, Derik Bontempo started the improbable Bruin rally with an opposite field single that snuck under the glove of the diving right fielder. Joe Mancuso, after falling behind in the count 0-2 fouled off four two-strike pitches before earning a 10-pitch walk and moving the tying run into scoring position to bring up Colton Nash. Nash – who had been 1-for-12 in the tournament prior to that at-bat – took a first pitch ball before leaving all that behind him by lining a double down the left field line that just stayed fair to easily score Bontempo. When the throw to try to nab Mancuso at third skirted into foul territory, Mancuso got up out of his slide and charged home for the Bruins' second walk-off win of the tournament.
The win is Bellevue's 20th come-from-behind win of the season and their 16th victory in their final at-bat.
Things looked good for Bellevue who was looking to put any offensive struggles from earlier in the tournament behind them. BU came charging out of the gates, scoring a pair of runs in the opening frame on a two-run single by Bontempo.
Davenport scratched their way back into the game with single runs in each the third and fourth innings. The Bruins countered with a run of their own in the fourth when Connor Garrison singled through the left side of the infield to plate pinch-runner Kevin Rodriguez to allow the Bruins to reclaim the lead at 3-2.
That lead was short-lived as Davenport took the lead with a two-run fifth and scored a run in the sixth after Bellevue made a call to the bullpen to relieve starter Aaron Bain. Bain tossed five-plus innings and kept the Bruins within two when all was settled in the sixth.
The Bellevue bullpen was exceptional in this one, combining to throw four scoreless innings in relief of Bain, shutting out Davenport the rest of the way. Tony Monroy limited the Panthers to three hits in three innings and Leland Tilley (9-1) earned the win after coming on for the final three outs in the ninth to keep the Bruins within striking distance.
BU gave themselves a chance in the eighth inning when they scored a single run to pull within a run at 5-4. Bontempo and Mancuso started the inning with back-to-back singles before pinch-hitter John King laid down a perfect sac bunt to put both runners in scoring position. A walk to Jake Browne loaded the bags with Bruins before Matt Evans singled to left to bring in a run. That was all BU got as back-to-back outs left the bases loaded headed to the ninth.
Jones, Ross Feeley, and Bontempo each had three-hit games for Bellevue while Connor Garrison chipped in with two for the purple and gold who out-hit the home-standing Panthers 15-11 on the afternoon.
The win was Bellevue's 50th of the season, marking the first time head coach Duane Monlux has hit that milestone in his career. It's the sixth time in program history – and the first since 2008 – that the Bruins have won at least 50 games in a single season.
Bellevue (50-10) and Davenport (43-16) play the rubber game tomorrow for the right to advance to the Avista-NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho. Game time is scheduled for noon local time (11 a.m. CT). It's the third-straight season in which Bellevue is playing in the "If Necessary" game in the Opening Round Tournament. Bellevue is seeking their first World Series appearance since 2008. Davenport reached Lewiston last season.