For eight innings, Southeast Missouri State did just about everything right as it closed in on a series victory over a tough Central Michigan squad.
But a disastrous top of the ninth inning sent the Redhawks to a gut-wrenching defeat.
All-American closer Brad Smith allowed four runs in the ninth and did not even finish the frame as the Chippewas rallied for a 5-3 triumph Sunday afternoon at Capaha Field.
CMU (11-6) captured two of three in the series that saw every game decided by two runs or less. Southeast (7-11) won Saturday 4-3, after the Chippewas prevailed Friday 4-2.
"It's a big win for them and a disappointing loss for us," Southeast coach Mark Hogan said. "But it was really a great ballgame, well-played by both teams, with great pitching.
"It was a great series, very well-played. Every game could have gone either way. I think Central Michigan will have a super year. They have some great arms."
Smith, a senior right-hander, set Southeast's single-season saves record last year with 11, and his 13 career saves -- including two this year -- are also a school record.
After earning a save Saturday with two scoreless innings, Smith simply did not have it Sunday after he entered the contest trying to protect a 3-1 lead.
Smith hit David Latour to start the ninth and then walked Derek Schaller. J.T. Jones laid down a bunt in a sacrifice attempt, and Smith could have had an easy out at first, but he elected to try for the out at third. Latour beat the throw to load the bases.
Jeremy Crum singled to make it 3-2 and keep the bases loaded. Second baseman Bo Jenkins made a diving stop and got a forceout on Troy Moratti's smash, but the tying run scored.
Jim Geldhof then singled to put CMU up 4-3. A wild pitch moved the runners up to second and third. After Smith got the second out, slugger Kurtis Wells was intentionally walked to load the bases -- then Smith also walked Noah Lankford to force in the inning's final run. Freshman Joey Evans replaced Smith (0-1) and recorded the last out.
"Brad has been tremendous for us, but he's human," Hogan said. "But if you put me in this situation, up 3-1 and him coming in to close it out, I'll take it every time."
Said CMU coach Steve Jaksa: "It was a great series and they have a real nice ballclub. He [Smith] helped us out, and we got some big hits after that."
The game featured a starting pitching duel of left-handers, with neither figuring into the decision.
Southeast junior Derek Herbig worked 5 1/3 shutout innings, allowing three hits while striking out six and walking four.
CMU sophomore Jayson Ruhlman gave up seven hits and three runs (two earned) in seven innings, with 10 strikeouts and one walk. Right-hander Nathan Pung (1-0) got the win with two scoreless frames, allowing two hits.
"Both starters were great," Hogan said.
Junior right-hander Jamie McAlister allowed one run and two hits in 1 2/3 innings, while junior left-hander Josh Parham hurled a hitless eighth.
Southeast out-hit CMU 9-7 and homered twice after entering the contest with just four home runs on the season.
Junior first baseman Jordan Payne got his second homer of the series, and team-leading third of the year, and finished with two RBIs. Sophomore outfielder Brent Lawson hit his first homer of the season.
Senior third baseman Eric Horstman continued his hot hitting by going 3-for-4 with two doubles. He had seven hits in the series and now leads the team with a .358 average.
The Redhawks had a chance to increase their 3-1 lead in the eighth as they loaded the bases with one out, but they failed to score.
"We maybe had a chance to put them away there, but it didn't happen," Hogan said. "You have to give them credit for coming back."
Southeast hosts Evansville at 6 p.m. Tuesday