CHARLESTON, S.C. – After giving up three runs in the first inning, UNCG baseball settled in and grinded out a 4-3 victory over The Citadel Bulldogs at Joseph P. Riley Park Saturday afternoon. UNCG pitchers held The Citadel scoreless over the final eight innings to improve to 36-12 and 17-3 in Southern Conference play. The Citadel falls to 17-31 and 6-14 in league play.
With Samford’s loss in the first game of their doubleheader at Western Carolina, the Spartans clinched a share of the Southern Conference’s Regular Season Championship. Another UNCG win or Samford loss would give the Spartans the regular season crown outright. UNCG will be the No. 1 seed headed to the SoCon Tournament at the end of May as it owns the tiebreaker after sweeping Samford earlier this season.
Bryce Hensley started his 41st game of his Spartan career Saturday afternoon. The senior went 5.0 innings, allowing six hits, three earned runs and struck out five. Jack Maynard was first out of the bullpen, working 3.1 innings and earned the win. He allowed just one hit and struck out four before giving way to Andrew Wantz. Wantz needed just one pitch to record the save, getting a double play to end the threat in the ninth inning and pick up his ninth save of the season.
“We didn’t get out of the gates well today.” Head coach Link Jarrett said, “The first inning was a tough one. Bryce (Hensley) wasn’t sharp early. He threw the pick off away and we weren’t sharp in the first inning. Our at bats weren’t sharp. But, down like that, our at bats got better as the game progressed, we started to post zeros and all their damage was done in the first inning. We’re fortunate that we could scratch and claw and get our way back into it and end up taking and holding on to the lead.
“(Jack) Maynard held the game in check for a while and pitched very well to get it to (Andrew) Wantz.” Jarrett continued, “For him to come in and throw that change up and Tripp (Shelton), the presence of mind to take it himself, (Josh) Madole’s ability around the base to handle the ball and pick it, it was a good win. The hit and run with Cesar (Trejo) and (Dillon) Stewart, Stewart drove the ball through, they had the shortstop cover the base and that allowed Cesar to go first to third. That allowed (Ryan) Clinch to square a ball up and get us a run. It’s a good win. For the way it started, the guys showed a lot of character to hang in there and chip away and come back to win that game.”
Austin Embler, Cesar Trejo and Dillon Stewart each had multiple hit games and scored a run. Trejo drove in one to go with a stolen base. Stewart added his third triple of the season in the contest. Tripp Shelton finished 1-for-4 with an RBI and Ryan Clinch added the eventual game-winning RBI in the top of the eighth inning.
The Citadel hung a crooked number up in the bottom of the first inning. The Bulldogs first three hitters started the game with a double and back-to-back RBI singles. After a ground out, a Bryce Leasure single plated the third run and the Bulldogs took the 3-0 lead.
UNCG got a run back in the top of the second inning. After a lead off triple from Stewart, Shelton connected on a sinking line drive that got down in front of a diving Bulldog right fielder to cut the lead to 3-1.
The Spartans tied the game up in the top of the third inning. After a lead off single from Embler, Andrew Moritz drew a walk to put two on. Trejo delivered a single to left field to score Embler and the cut off man tried to get Moritz taking third on the throw. The throw was off target and kicked away far enough to allow Moritz to score and tied the game at 3-3.
After four scoreless innings, UNCG broke the tie in the top of the eighth inning. Trejo and Stewart led off with back-to-back singles, with Trejo going first to third on the hit and run. Clinch delivered the go-ahead run with a ground out to second base
The Spartans look to sweep The Citadel for the first time since the 2011 season tomorrow afternoon at 1 p.m. A Spartan win or another Samford loss will give UNCG its first Southern Conference Regular Season title since 1998, winning the regular season in the first year as a member of the SoCon.