The St. Joseph Mustangs are once again the MINK League North Division champions.
And this time, it’s even more important.
With the regular season title on the line, the St. Joseph Mustangs offense came up big when it needed to. The Mustangs defeated the Nevada Griffons 5-3 on Monday in Nevada, Missouri.
The win, coupled with Sedalia’s 4-3 loss in Clarinda, gave St. Joseph the title of North Division champion and the team home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
Jacob Lewis, starting pitcher for Nevada, had retired 10 Mustangs batters in a row before first baseman Josh Williams hit a solo shot in the fifth inning. Williams’ fourth home run of the season tied the game after Nevada went up 1-0 earlier in the game.
St. Joseph starter Jake VanVacter (3-3) pitched seven strong innings, allowing only the first-inning run while scattering five hits.
The Mustangs (33-13, 27-12 MINK) took their first lead of the game in the seventh inning when Jacob Richardson scored from first off a Jeremiah Figueroa double down the left-field line.
In the bottom of the seventh, after a leadoff double, Brady Anderson made a sensational diving catch on an attempted sacrifice bunt by TJ Martin. Anderson’s glove extended near the on deck circle.
The Mustangs caught a huge break in the eighth inning when a one-out ground ball off the bat of Anderson hit the field umpire. In what could have been an inning-ending double play instead allowed two runners on, and the Mustangs took advantage.
Colton Pogue doubled to score Josh Lincoln from first, Richardson plated Anderson with a single and Pogue scored on Figeroua’s fielder’s choice to shortstop to mark the score 5-1.
Nikko Pablo entered the game in the bottom of thr eighth to face the top of the Griffons’ batting order. Pablo, who was named co-pitcher of the year on Sunday, seemed to be out of the inning but a dropped-ball third strike put runners on first and second. Pablo would then hit the next batter, loading the bases for the Griffons’ leading home-run hitter Noah Menchaca.
Swinging at the first pitch, however, Menchaca flew out to left field to end the inning.
After holding the Mustangs scoreless in the ninth, the Griffons (21-24, 21-21 MINK) mounted a rally in the home half of the inning. But after allowing his first earned run of the season, Pablo finished off the Griffons to earn his third save of the year.
In the MINK League Playoffs this year, the second- and third-place teams in each division will play a one-game playoff with the winner of that game taking on the division winner. The divisional round also is a one-game series.
The MINK League Championship then will be decided in a three-game series beginning Friday, July 28.