In its American Midwest Conference postseason opener, top-seed Columbia College baseball found itself in need of some inspiration as the game wore on.
It wasn’t the first time the Cougars had been frustrated against Lyon this season. The fourth-seeded Scots were one of just two conference opponents to hold them to a four-game series tie in their regular season.
But Columbia would find its hero in the bottom of the eighth with the game tied and a nervy ninth fast approaching.
Kenny Piper delivered the winning play with his three-run homer over center making it 7-4 as the Cougars advanced to Day 2 of the AMC tournament Wednesday in O’Fallon without a blemish in the double-elimination event.
After Piper’s long ball, the baton was passed to relief pitcher Conner Darnell to clinch the game in the top of the ninth.
He made light work of the task, throwing a 1-2-3 inning to give him the win in a near faultless performance from the mound. Darnell gave up no hits, two walks and struck out one in 2⅔ innings pitched.
Lyon had been stubborn up until the end.
The Scots’ pitchers, Alan Wall and Nash Winters, each once put out the Cougars with the bases loaded. They recorded a four-run third to take the lead after the Cougars had lept to a three-run lead in the first.
Before getting the game-winning runs, Columbia’s batters went out in three-up, three-down fashion on three occasions. The homer brought an end to the frustration and wasn’t Piper’s only involvement. The Cougars had three more scoring plays, and he was involved in two.
In the first, Piper made it home from a Dalton Bealmer triple that also scored Brad Prebay. After tripling to center in the fifth, Piper then made it around again to tie the game at four on a Prebay sacrifice fly.
The graduate student is hitting .423 this season with 13 home runs.