CLEBURNE, Texas – Rogers State Baseball claimed the 2019 Heartland Conference Tournament Championship on Saturday, defeating St. Edward's 4-3 to cap a perfect 3-0 week in the Hillcats first-ever trip to the postseason since joining the league.
"This group is extremely special," said head coach Chris Klimas. "As far as the team goes wire-to-wire this group is the epitome of a team. They fought for each other. I couldn't be more proud of this group. It is an unbelievable story."
Trailing 3-2 in the eighth inning, Brendan Griffith stepped up with runners on first and second and roped a single down the right field line to score Nick Follett to tie the game.
Dylan Russell then stepped in and hit a bunt single to the right side of the infield, allowing Keller to score the go-ahead and game-winning run.
Sean Robinson, who pitched the final out of the seventh inning, tossed a scoreless eighth inning, setting up closer Brock Knoten. Robinson picked up the win, his second of the season.
In the ninth, Knoten recorded two strikeouts and the final out came on a first pitch ground ball to Zack Mann at short.
Knoten set the all-time single season school record with his 13th save in the game. He also tied the all-time record for pitching appearances with 57, matching Grant Cosby.
St. Edward's took an early lead with a sacrifice bunt pushed to the right side to score a run in the bottom of the first.
Grant Farris, who was named the Tournament MVP, tied the game with a double off the fence in left field, scoring Zack Mann to tie the game at 1 in the third inning.
Keller broke a 1-1 tie in the fourth inning with a solo home run to right field.
St. Edward's would tie the game at 2 in the sixth inning and then went in front in the seventh inning, with both runs coming off doubles down the left and right field lines, respectively.
Knoten, Mann, Follett, Keller and Jackson Simonsgaard joined Grant Farris on the All-Heartland Tournament Team.
Preston Whitten went five innings to start the game, allowing just two runs on six hits in the no decision. Joey Lucas pitched five outs in relief, allowing one run on two hits before Robinson entered the game. Lucas got the Hillcats out of a major bases-loaded jam with no outs, forcing a fly out and an inning-ending double play.
With the weekend sweep, Rogers State also improved to 20-15 in program history in postseason games. Saturday's victory at The Depot at Cleburne Station was also the Hillcats first conference championship since winning the Sooner Athletic Conference title in 2011.
With the win, the Hillcats earned the automatic qualifier from the Heartland for the NCAA Tournament, which begins on Thursday.