CARY, N.C. -- Minnesota State-Mankato used a pair of runs in the fourth and fifth innings while surrendering only one run for the third consecutive contest to best Southern Indiana 5-1 on Thursday and forced a winner-take-all affair with the Screaming Eagles for a spot in the national championship game.MSU improved to 48-10 with the victory, while USI dropped to 48-12. The two programs will meet on Friday needing one win to clinch a berth in Saturday's national title game.
For the third time at the national finals, Minnesota State's opponent plated the game's first run. Southern Indiana used a lead-off walk in the top of the second and a pair of two-out singles, capped by Caleb Eickhoff's RBI single to left just under the glove of left fielder Taylor Branstad, to jump in front by a run.
Branstad, however, responded for MSU in its half of the fourth. With runners at first and second and two down, Branstad belted a 1-0 fastball to the gap in right-center scoring both Mavericks and giving the Purple and Gold a 2-1 edge.
Minnesota State used nearly the same script to plate two more runs in the bottom of the fifth. Connor McCallum tagged a lead-off single, and Eric Peterson backed that up with a one-out base hit placing runners at the corners. Todd Standish followed with a bouncer to the shortstop that Peterson beat out at second, scoring McCallum, before Johnson drove a RBI single to the opposite field two batters increasing the MSU lead to 4-1.
In his longest outing of the season, righthander T.J. Larson registered his sixth consecutive shutout frame in the top of the seventh. Despite a one-out walk and throwing error allowing the runner to advance to third, Larson maintained the three-run advantage by inducing a soft lineout and flyout to centerfield.
MSU turned to the bullpen for the first time in the tournament in the top of the eighth when Josh Matheson proceeded to strike out a pair of Screaming Eagles in a perfect inning. In the bottom half, the Mavericks added an insurance run with a two-out single to right field by Parker Sullivan that plated Branstad from third.
Matt Geislinger took the hill in the top of the ninth and used a 1-6-3 double-play to lock down the victory for Minnesota State.
Larson (6-3) finished with three strikeouts against five hits and an earned run in 7.0 innings of work. Offensively, Branstad ended with a game-high three hits, a run and two RBI while McCallum and Johnson each added two hits of their own.