CARY, N.C. – Delta State head baseball coach Mike Kinnison didn’t think it was over.
Campus legend Dave “Boo” Ferriss didn’t think it was over, although the Statesmen “weren’t hitting a lick.”
Dennis Grant, son of outfielder Morriss Grant, didn’t think it was over and kept right on leading the cheers he’s cheered all week. If anything, his chants were even louder and prouder than they had been.
Never mind the fact that the Coleman Field scoreboard had Delta State down 5-0 to Minnesota State-Mankato going into the bottom of the eighth. For one team, there would be no tomorrow. The other would move on to face West Chester for the NCAA Division II national championship. This was it.
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Sure, it was going to be tough coming back against a pitching squad on a hot streak of 26 consecutive scoreless innings — including a 1-0 shutout against this same Delta State squad just the day before. As pinch-hitter Chad Fortenberry walked to the plate to begin the inning, Delta State had all of two hits.
Count ‘em: two.
Fortenberry singled. One hit became two. A run scored, and then another. Toss in a couple of walks and an error, a fielder’s choice and finally a one-out, two-run single by Tyler Aldridge tied the game. One side of the stadium — the Minnesota State-Mankato side along the first base line — sat in stunned silence as the other erupted in electrified joy.
It really ain’t over until it’s over. Delta State hadn’t won yet; the game was only tied when the inning finally ended, but the Statesmen were a heck of a lot closer than they had been coming into the frame.
“I’m not ever going to feel like a game’s over when it’s just five to nothing,” Kinnison said after the game. “Fifteen to nothing, some of those kinds of games, yeah. But five to nothing? This game’s too crazy. I’ve been on both sides of it. We’ve blown five to nothing leads, so I know how the game can change. You just feel as a coach, we’re so much better than that offensively.”
After shutting the Mavericks down in the top of the ninth, Jordan Chovanec started Delta State off with a one-out single and he then stole second. Or did he? Chovanec slid over the bag, and in a scramble, tried to get his foot back on it.
Initially called out, Kinnison came onto the field and made what he figured was a simple request. Had the view of Matt Neader, the second-base umpire, been shielded on the play? If so, could he ask for help to see if the call had been correct? The four umpires got together … and then called Chovanec safe.
“I just asked him to get some help from the rest of his crew,” Kinnison said. “We talked about the importance of getting the call right, and I thought he got back on. I thought the umpire had to navigate a little bit of traffic to move to his right to get around and see it. I think there’s a third-base umpire standing right there with a clear view of it. That’s all I asked, if there was any navigating and not being able to see it clearly, to please get some help on it. I’m thankful that they did.”
The reversal was critical. After an intentional walk to Sam Kidd and another single by Ben Kingsley — the Delta State designated hitter, not the actor — the bases were loaded with Chovanec on third. Michael Vinson’s single drove him in with the winning run.
Game. Set. Match. Delta State. Go Okra!
“We’ve seemed to hit the ball in the air a lot the last two games with not much to show for it,” Kinnison said. “You talk about the game winning hit. Mike hits that ball out there maybe a hundred feet, and it wins the game. The time before that, he hits it 398 feet, right to the base of the wall, and it’s caught. That’s the nature of baseball.”
A loss would’ve ended Delta State’s season, and don’t think for a second that Kinnison wasn’t feeling the pressure after the defeat to Minnesota State-Mankato on Thursday.
But it wasn’t over, not yet.
“Yeah, there was pressure,” Kinnison said with a smile. “But that’s the fun of it. That’s what I tell our team. You have to get to a point where the competitive pressure is what you enjoy. Sometimes, you have to take a breath and slow it down. Yeah, there was some pressure there. That’s why we are where we are.”
And that’s in the national championship game.