OZARK, Mo. -- No lead was safe Friday night until the Quincy University baseball team's beleaguered closer came in the game.
Senior right-hander Cole Crawford struck Missouri S&T's Matt Gruse with two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth inning Friday night, preserving an 11-9 victory in the second round of the Great Lakes Valley Conference Tournament at U.S. Baseball Park.
Crawford, who had blown three of his previous four save opportunities, got Gruse to swing at a slider for the final strike.
"I switched something up on the slider, and it worked," Crawford said.
It was only one batter, but it changed his mentality completely.
"It feels like I'm back," said Crawford, who surrendered a one-run lead in the ninth inning Thursday against Southern Indiana only to see the Hawks win in 10 innings. "I couldn't have done it without the help of my teammates. They've been awesome throughout my struggles, telling me, 'Hey, you're still our guy.'"
The Hawks may need him again to defend their championship.
Quincy (37-15) plays at 7:30 p.m. Saturday against Bellarmine or Maryville, who play in an elimination game at 9 a.m. Saturday.
The Hawks are the highest seed remaining -- East champion Illinois-Springfield and West champion Drury were eliminated Friday -- despite walking eight batters, hitting three and committing two errors against the Miners. They need to win one of the next two games to get into the championship.
"Luckily, we showed up to hit," said QU coach Josh Rabe, whose team had 15 hits and four extra-base hits. "We're staying until Sunday."
J.C. DeMuri played a pivotal role in that.
The Hawks fell behind 5-2 in the second when starter Nick Stroud walked four batters and didn't get out of the inning. QU methodically chipped away at the deficit. They tied the game in fifth and built a 9-5 lead as Cody Birdsong cracked a two-run single and Jake Viaene had an RBI double.
That lead dwindled to 9-8, then junior reliever Karl Hirsch hit three consecutive batters on three consecutive pitches with one out in the bottom of the seventh. Sophomore right-hander Alex Pribyl got the Hawks out of the inning but not before the Miners scored the tying run on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike.
In the top of the eighth, DeMuri belted a home run to left field on the second pitch he saw from Miners reliever Luke Marcheschi that gave the Hawks the lead for good.
"I was looking for a fastball over the middle of the plate," DeMuri said. "I could be wrong, but I don't know if he threw an offspeed pitch up until my at-bat, so I knew that was not coming. I was looking for a fastball, something I could elevate."
With the wind blowing in from the left field and the 20-foot outfield wall, DeMuri knew he had to catch it clean.
"It felt like it was gone," he said. "For a split second, I remembered how high the walls were, but it got out."
Pribyl punched out two of three batters he faced in the eighth, which ended with a strike-'em-out, throw-'em-out double play on a steal attempt, and he struck out the first two batters in the ninth. A single and a walk forced Rabe to go to Crawford.
Crawford needed four pitches to retire Gruse and end what he described as an insane game.
"It was awesome to see him get it done," Rabe said. "Awesome."
Quincy 11, Missouri S&T 9
Quincy 021 132 011--11 15 2
Missouri S&T 050 003 100--9 8 3
Stroud, Moriarty (2), Hirsch (6), Pribyl (7), Crawford (9) and Viaene; Borek, Martin (5), Marcheschi (5), Garza (8) and Nelson. WP--Pribyl (5-1). LP--Marcheschi (4-2). S--Crawford (10). 2B--Quincy 3 (DeMuri, Nielsen, Viaene), Missouri S&T 1 (Swindle). HR--Quincy 1 (DeMuri).