By BEN JOHNSON
Kegan Knight wasn’t quite sure if he hit the ball hard enough to send it over the fence. Everyone else at Thomas C. Rousey Field knew he got more than enough to send it over the 320 sign just inside the left-field pole.
“I knew it hit it well,” Knight said, “but I didn’t know if it was going out at first.”
Knight’s no-doubter — his third home run of the season — went soaring over the fence to punctuate the RiverHawks’ come-from-behind, 10-7 victory over Central Oklahoma on Tuesday afternoon.
“That was awesome,” Knight said following his first-ever walk-off home run — at any level. “...Whatever I can do to help us win, whether it’s getting lucky and hitting one out or safety squeezing, I’m just happy to win.”
Knight’s 2-for-5 performance with four runs batted in helped the RiverHawks win their fifth straight game and improve to 11-7 in Mid-American Intercollegiate Athletics Association play and overall.
NSU’s victory completed a two-game sweep of the Bronchos after the RiverHawks won the first game of the doubleheader, 4-0.
“Five wins in a row is huge for us,” said Knight, who increased his RBI total to 20 — which is second behind Cody Robinson’s 29. “We were about .500 for a while, but these last five games really bumped us up. And beating UCO is always good.”
The way the RiverHawks found the win column made it that much more satisfying, especially considering what happened mere seconds before Knight’s home run.
Trailing 7-6 in the ninth inning, NSU’s Chad Davidson singled through the left side of the infield, and Andrew Walker — pinch running for Kyle Singleton, who singled with one out — ran into UCO catcher Ryan Stoup on a bang-bang play at home plate. Walker narrowly eluded Stoup’s tag and was called safe, tying the game at 7, much to the dismay of the Bronchos and UCO coach Dax Leone.
“You can’t make two errors in the ninth inning to put yourself in that situation,” said Leone, whose shortstop, Cesar Wong, botched a ground ball with one out that could have resulted in a double play to end the game.
“The (home plate umpire Jesse Stone) had a tough day behind the plate on both sides. You just try to take it out of their hands, but credit to Northeastern.”
The very next pitch, Knight ended the game and sent the home dugout into a frenzy.
“That was awesome,” said NSU coach Travis Janssen, whose team won its first game of the season when trailing after eight innings.
“That was a lot of fun, and two seniors, Chad Davidson and Kegan Knight, both stepped up and delivered hits when we needed them.”
The Bronchos (9-6, 9-6) were in line for a split in the two-game set after lead-off hitter Tyler Crabtree hit a solo home run — his first of the season — to give UCO a 7-6 lead in the eighth inning. It was the Bronchos’ first run since their five-run third inning, which was highlighted by Jared Wright’s two-run home run and Matt Johnson’s two-run double down the left-field line.
But the RiverHawks slammed the door on UCO’s offense, thanks to right-hander T.J. Foster. The sophomore hurler from Fayetteville issued only one hit over 3 2/3 innings of scoreless work before being lifted in the seventh.
“Story of the game, to me, was T.J. Foster,” Janssen said. “He came in the middle part of the game and he settled everything down and just did an awesome job of throwing strikes.”
Foster didn’t get the win for NSU — that went to Addison Williams (3-1) — but he kept the Bronchos at bay while the RiverHawks used two runs in the fourth inning and one in the fifth to tie the game up at 6.
NSU 4, UCO 0 (1st game)
The sample size is small, but Northeastern State pitcher Hayden Walch sure has had a knack for shutting down Central Oklahoma the two times he’s seen the Bronchos.
Walch threw six scoreless innings, leading Northeastern State to a 4-0 victory over UCO in the first game of a doubleheader on Tuesday.
“I wouldn’t call it domination,” Walch said. “I’m just going out there trying to throw strikes and make them put it in play, really.”
Walch — who scattered four hits while throwing 45 of his 74 pitches for strikes — continued his mastery against the Bronchos. The 5-foot-7, right-handed sophomore made his collegiate debut last season against Central Oklahoma, striking out three during three scoreless and hitless frames.
“I didn’t even know that,” Janssen said of Walch’s two performances against UCO. “It just happened to work out. He did a good job of throwing his off-speed stuff for strikes and it worked out really good. He did a good job today.”
Walch improved to 2-3 this season thanks to his teammates capitalizing on miscues by UCO in the field.
In the first inning, the RiverHawks’ David Weber scored when Trent Wilkins’ ground ball to shortstop was booted by Wong. NSU seized two more runs in the sixth inning after Edgar Lopez was tagged with an error. Chad Davidson followed by singling home Gavin Johnson before Wilkins plated Weber.
Sandwiched in between, the RiverHawks posted a run in the fourth on Knight’s RBI single up the middle.
Northeastern State will continue MIAA play on Saturday at Missouri Western.