Hayden Senger has quite the knack for coming in clutch.
The junior catcher hit a walk-off single against Xavier in the first round of the Joe Nuxhall Classic last Tuesday, before hitting a game-tying double and scoring the winning run against Cincinnati in the bottom of the ninth on Wednesday. The walk-offs allowed Miami to clinch a second-straight Nuxhall Classic championship.
“It feels really good to be the champion,” Senger said. “We love winning this thing. [The Nuxhall Classic] is probably the important week of our season.”
Senger went a combined 4-for-9 at the plate against Xavier and UC , while driving in three runs, scoring three more and walking once. He earned MVP of the tournament for his performance.
Miami’s first-round matchup against the Xavier Musketeers (11-21) was a rematch of last season’s Nuxhall Classic finals. XU came into Tuesday 3-0 against the RedHawks (19-10, 6-3 MAC) on the season, after sweeping the Red and White in a weekend non-conference series in mid-March.
Xavier picked up where it left off against Miami, scoring five runs in the first four innings to take an early 5-0 lead.
Redshirt freshman Jay Wilson started on the mound for Miami, pitching 3.2 innings and giving up all five of the Muskies’ runs. He tallied four strikeouts. MU head coach Danny Hayden was still pleased with Wilson’s effort.
“Jay wouldn’t make an excuse, but Jay was battling some food poisoning today, and did not feel well at all,” Hayden said. “He gutted it out for us and gave us a good start.”
The RedHawks finally broke through in the bottom of the fourth, when junior left fielder Mackay Williams ripped a single into right field to score Senger from second.
Both teams were held scoreless for two innings until MU junior right fielder Dallas Hall made it 5-2 with an RBI double down the left-field line in the seventh.
After an XU throwing error allowed Redshirt senior first baseman Ross Haffey to reach first base and Hall to score, sophomore third baseman Landon Stephens doubled deep to left, scoring Haffey to cut the RedHawks’ deficit to 5-4.
Miami tied the score at five one inning later, as sophomore second baseman Will Vogelgesang tripled to right center and then crossed the plate on a wild pitch.
The bullpen held strong in the top of the ninth to give Miami a chance at a walk-off. Overall, four RedHawk relievers combined for 5.1 innings of shutout baseball. They surrendered only three hits and struck out 10 Xavier batters.
Hall singled to lead off the bottom of the ninth. A throwing error on an attempted pick-off play allowed him to reach third with no outs in the inning.
Xavier intentionally walked Haffey and Stephens to load the bases with no one out and Senger coming to the plate.
Down quickly with two strikes, Senger blasted a ball into right field to score Hall and give Miami a 6-5 walk-off victory to advance to the finals against Cincinnati.
The hit was the fourth walk-off for Senger this season.
“I don’t think there was anyone [in our dugout] that thought we were going to lose that game at any point in that game,” Hayden said.
Junior Bailey Martin (W, 3-3) hurled a scoreless top of the ninth to get the victory.
Much like Xavier the night before, Cincinnati (16-15) got on the board quickly in the championship game on Wednesday, with the Bearcats’ first two batters hitting back-to-back home runs to kick off the contest.
Miami’s sophomore starter Grant Hartwig settled down after the two dingers and would hold UC scoreless until the top of the fifth inning. Hartwig finished the game with 4.1 innings pitched. He gave up four runs on five hits and three walks, while striking out five.
Down in a 2-0 hole, the RedHawks were fast to respond, tying the game with two runs of their own in the bottom of the first and taking the lead with four more runs an inning later.
Vogelgesang manufactured another run of insurance for Miami in the third to make it 7-2. He drew a walk to start the inning, and then stole second and third, before coming home on a sacrifice fly from senior shortstop Adrian Texidor.
But the Bearcats weren’t done, plating two runs in the fifth, one in the sixth and three in the seventh to take an 8-7 lead.
Both teams were held scoreless in the eighth, putting Miami in a familiar spot — the top half of the batting order due up in the bottom of the ninth and a chance to claim another dramatic, late-inning win.
Haffey drew a walk to start the frame. He moved to second on a groundout to third by Stephens and was then replaced by freshman pinch-runner Cristian Tejada.
With one out and the speedy Tejada on second, Senger came to the plate and ripped an RBI double to tie the game.
The next two Miami batters walked to load the bases with one out.
With the Joe Nuxhall Classic on the line, Vogelgesang chopped a high one-hopper to the Bearcat third baseman, who stepped on third for the second out of the inning and threw to first in an attempt to complete the double play. However, Vogelgesang, hustling out of the batter’s box, beat the throw to first, which gave Senger time to cross the plate and win the game 9-8.
“I saw the ball go about 40 feet up in the air, and I’m like, ‘well, Will [Vogelgesang] is making it to first for sure,” Senger said. “He’s the fastest guy I know and I’ve seen on a baseball field. He gets a bunt hit a game — maybe two — and is incredibly fast. I knew he was going to make it.”
Vogelgesang had confidence in his speed, as well, after watching the ball take a high hop.
“There’s no way he’s throwing me out,” Vogelgesang said. “I was running down the line and there was no way he was throwing me out.”
Junior reliever Jack Corbell (W, 1-1) tossed 2.2 impressive innings out of the ‘pen, only giving up one hit.
“[Jack Corbell] did a great job keeping us in a baseball game,” Hayden said. “That was not an easy situation to bring him into, and he fought more than a couple times to keep us in a ballgame, to keep us close and give us a chance to win in.”
Miami has now won two straight Joe Nuxhall Classic titles, after not winning any in the first eight years of the tournament.
Wright State beat Xavier 9-7 on Wednesday to place third in the Classic.
The RedHawks return to action in Muncie, Ind. this weekend, when they take on Ball State. The two teams will play a double-header on Friday — the first game starts at noon, while the second is scheduled for 3 p.m. — and finish up with a 1 p.m. series-finale on Saturday.