CHILLICOTHE, OHIO – In just its second year as a program, head coach Matt Howard took the Indiana University Kokomo baseball team to the brink of qualifying for the NAIA National Championship. Unfortunately, the Cougars fell to Rio Grande University 7-6 in 12 innings in the championship game of the River States Conference Tournament in Chillicothe, Ohio. The win gave the RedStorm the conference’s automatic bid to the national tourney.
The Cougars advanced to the title game after entering the tournament with the No. 3 overall seed after a 19-8 regular season conference campaign Along the way in tourney play, they knocked off Rio Grande in the opener 9-4, Point Park 7-3 in the quarterfinals and 8-4 in the semifinals of the double-elimination style bracket. But on Championship Sunday, the Cougars dropped a pair of games to Rio Grande, including the title game and a 7-5 elimination game for Rio Grande.
In the championship, Clayton Surrell scored on a one-out infield single by Michael Rodriguez in the bottom of the 12th inning to give the RedStorm the RSC title.
The Cougars looked as if they’d shrugged off any after effects of a 7-5 loss in Sunday’s first final, scoring six times in the first inning off Rio sophomore starter Caine Whitney who, ironically, tossed the final two innings of the first game to earn a save.
IUK’s big first inning included a two-run double by Dalton Clarke and a three-run, pinch-hit double by Mark Goudy.
Rio Grande slowly picked away at the lead, though, scoring once in the first, third, fifth, seventh and eighth innings before finally tying the game in the bottom of the ninth when junior Kent Reeser led off with a single, stole second and rode home on a base hit to left by junior Caden.
While the RedStorm offense was busy slowly chipping away at the deficit, the Cougar offensive attack was held in check by Rio freshman reliever Victo Feliz. Feliz, who’d thrown just 11-2/3 innings all season and walked seven batters, allowed eight hits and struck out six over eight scoreless innings of relief.
In the semifinal win against Point Park, the Cougars followed its familiar pattern in getting an early lead and holding off a comeback attempt. IU Kokomo had 12 hits with eight going for extra bases. IU Kokomo built an 8-1 lead after six innings. The Cougars scored in four of those innings with the big blow being from Austin Weiler with a grand slam in the third for a 5-1 lead. In the fifth, doubles by Caleb Matthews and Mark Goudy produced a run. Likewise in the sixth, a triple by Noah Darr (3 for 4) and a base hit by Dalton Clarke created a run.
Midway got within 8-4 with three runs, three hits and a pair of errors in the top of the eighth. IU Kokomo starter Max McKee got out of that jam to strand two and get through eight complete innings for the win. He gave up seven hits, four runs (two earned), struck out eight and walked three. Tyler Lunger pitched a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the victory.
In the quarterfinal win over Point Park, IUK raced to a 7-0 lead over the No. 2 seed. The Cougars got a big swing off the bat by Clarke for a grand slam in the second inning. That gave IU Kokomo control at 5-0.
IU Kokomo made the most of its six hits and took advantage of a couple of Point Park errors, the latter of which allowed the other three runs besides the grand slam to score. Tavon Lindsay was 2 for 4 with two runs, and Clarke scored two runs.
That was more than enough for the IU Kokomo pitching staff, which got six innings from starter Owen Callaghan. He gave up only one hit and one unearned run, struck out four and gave up three walks. Clark Davenport, Ryan Beck, and McKee posted one inning each out of the bullpen to close the game.
Against Rio Grande in the tourney opener, the Cougars got out to a 4-1 lead with the help of Jared Heard’s two-run homer in the third inning. Although Rio Grande tied the game at four with two in the fourth and one more in the fifth, IU Kokomo’s bullpen shut the door.
The Cougars then added on in two more scoring innings to build the lead, using extra-base hits each time. In the bottom of the fifth, Noah Etchison’s triple set up Clark’s sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run. Later, Lindsay delivered a two-run double. The lead was padded to 9-4 with Weiler’s triple in the eighth, which brought home two more.
The Cougars also had several student-athletes earn post-season conference honors. Owen Callaghan (starting pitcher), Dalton Clarke (first base), Jared Heard (outfield) and Austin Weiler (designated hitter) were named to the All-RSC First Team squad while Tyler Lunder (relief pitcher), Noah Darr (outfield) and Tavon Lindsay (outfield) were named All-RSC Second Team. John Tuttle earned a spot on the Champions of Character Team.
The Cougars took home an amazing five of the nine RSC Gold Glove Team positions, including all three outfield awards: Clarke at first base, Cody Bible at shortstop, Heard in left field, Darr in right field and Lindsay in center field.
Courtesy of IU Kokomo and Rio Grande University