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Mehrens’ one-out base hit sends Dixon to first conference win

DIXON – Riley Mehrens' eyes shifted upwards toward the sky as he thought back to the last time he had walk-off hit in baseball.

"It wasn't in high school," Mehrens said. "It was in Bronco League."

He was 11 or 12 years old.

The next time the Dixon second baseman is asked the question, he won't have to think as hard, because he can point to Thursday's 2-1 win over Northern Illinois Big-12 West division opponent Ottawa.

Dixon (5-12, 1-7 NIB-12 West) had the bases loaded with one out and trailed 1-0 in the bottom of the seventh when Mehrens smacked a two-run walk-off single. He was greeted by his teammates with hugs and high fives.

"That was such an exciting win," Dukes coach Sam Gallucci said. "I just didn't want to lose 1-0. These guys told me before the inning started, 'We're going to win this.'"

Cal Jarrett started the game for Dixon and threw one of his best games of the season. He allowed just two hits through six innings while walking two. He struck out 10 Ottawa batters with a heavy fastball that stayed down in the zone, and mixed in a slow curveball to keep batters off-balance.

The only blemish to his stat line came after allowing an unearned run in the third.

"I wanted to establish my fastball because my arm felt really good today," Jarrett said. "I just felt unathletic on the mound lately, and I wanted to come in here and get it going."

He was anything but unathletic, and kept his team in the game until the decisive seventh-inning. Gallucci pulled Jarrett after his six innings due to a high pitch count (98) in favor of Payton Murphy.

Murphy (1-0) allowed two hits in the top of the seventh, but worked out of a jam and held Ottawa scoreless, setting up the exciting final at-bat for the Dukes.

Ottawa starter Jake Less cruised through six inning, allowing just one hit until Dixon gave him trouble in the seventh. A.J. Murdock led off the inning with a single before Jarrett grounded out. Ryan Dixon singled, and the Dukes had runners at the corners with one out.

Ottawa made a pitching change to Seth Coffey, who had trouble finding the zone and hit the next batter, Nate Grocke, with a pitch, setting up the bases-loaded situation for Mehrens.

Mehrens was 0-for-2 in the game to that point. He struck out looking to end the second inning, and was thrown out by the catcher in his next at-bat in the fifth, after he barely clipped the ball and drove it straight into the soft infield.

When Mehrens walked up for his third at-bat, Gallucci's mind went into overdrive. He was running through scenarios about whether to let Mehrens swing away, or to ask the sophomore to bunt for a possible suicide squeeze play.

"I was thinking about a bunt," the fourth-year coach said, "but with A.J. [Murdock] at third, if he missed the bunt, A.J. is out, and that's the tying run. Who is coming up and who is running at third, I have to think about all that stuff.

"But Riley told me, 'I can hit this guy,' and he did. It was a good, solid hit."

With the game on the line, the sophomore delivered. He took a 1-0 pitch into left-center field and raced to first. He rounded the bag and watched as Murdock scored the tying run from third, and teammate Ryan Dixon followed, scoring standing up for the winning run.

"It felt really good off the bat," Mehrens said. "Especially because I haven't been hitting well lately, so it felt pretty good.

"I was just having some fun out there."

Star of the game: Cal Jarrett, Dixon, 6 IP, 10 strikeouts, 2 hits.

Key performances: Jake Less, Ottawa, 6 1/3 IP, 3 H, 2 R; Riley Mehrens, Dixon, 1-for-3, walkoff two-run single.

Up next: DeKalb at Dixon (2), 10 a.m. Saturday

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