GREENVILLE, S.C. – After an uncharacteristic day Wednesday, UNCG baseball got back on track with an 11-7 victory over the VMI Keydets in the Southern Conference Tournament presented by Holston Gases. UNCG eliminated the Keydets from the tournament and will advance to play at 7 p.m. Friday night. With the win, UNCG improves to 38-14 overall. VMI’s season comes to an end and finishes 26-27.
“Yesterday we weren’t sharp, but today we were good.” Head coach Link Jarrett said, “After we got out of the mess in the top of the first inning, I thought our at bats were good up and down the lineup. That’s a huge answer when you’re down three in the bottom of the first, to go out and put up five. That was key to us regaining some of the confidence we had coming in here.”
Bryce Hensley started on the hill, throwing 7.0 innings, allowing nine hits, four earned runs and striking out seven hitters. Andrew Wantz came on in relief to close out the final 2.0 innings, giving up two hits and striking out three.
After quiet day yesterday, the Spartan offense went for 14 hits, with five players recording multi-hit games. Ryan Caveness finished 3-for-3 with two RBI, two runs scored and drew a walk, reaching base in all four plate appearances. The top three hitters of the order combined for six hits, each recording two. Andrew Moritz added two RBI and scored once. Caleb Webster scored once and drove a run in and Austin Embler scored twice. Tripp Shelton added a two-hit day with an RBI double and scored a run. Josh Madole also had a two-RBI single.
“Bryce (Hensley) got better as he went along and was able to get us deep enough to get it to (Andrew) Wantz.” Jarrett continued, “He came in and got the last two innings for us. Tripp (Shelton) played a very nice ballgame. (Andrew) Moritz had a nice day. (Josh) Madole’s base hit with the bases loaded, two-strikes, no body out, that was a very key at bat for Josh to hit that ball to left center to score two more runs. I was proud of the way we played today. Our defense was solid, there’s some things we could have done a little cleaner, but that’s an indication of what our team does when we do it our way. Hopefully we can continue to play like that, we have to.”
VMI jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Nathan Eaton led the game off with a single to center field and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Matt Pita singled to bring in the first run before a two-out walk put runners on first and second. After a double steal and a walk, Jacob Jaye lined a double to right center to drive in two and put the Keydets up 3-0.
The Spartans responded in the bottom of the first inning, scoring five runs to take their first lead of the tournament. Embler started the frame with a walk, moved up on a Webster single and scored when Moritz singled through the right side. After a sacrifice bunt moved Webster and Moritz into scoring position, Shelton brought Webster home on a groundout to short. Cesar Trejo tied the game with an infield single before Ryan Clinch was hit by a pitch to put two on. Trejo and Clinch executed a hit and run and Caveness drove a groundball to left field. Trejo scored on the hit and the left fielder misplayed the grounder, allowing Clinch to score and putting the Spartans up 5-3.
UNCG added a solo run in the top of the second inning. Embler led off with a single and moved to second after a groundout. Dillon Stewart one-hopped a single off the green monster in left field to bring in Embler and put the Spartans up 6-3.
The Blue and Gold continued to add to its lead in the third inning, scoring four runs. Shelton led off with a single and the VMI pitcher loaded the bases with a walk and a hit by pitch. Caveness drew a walk to bring in the first run. Madole looped a single to shallow left center, bringing in Trejo from third and Clinch from second. Moritz drove in the fourth run of the inning with his second single of the day to put UNCG up 10-3.
VMI led off the top of the fifth inning with a triple from Matt Pita who scored when Matt Dunleavy tapped a groundball to second to cut the lead to 10-4.
The Spartans responded in their half of the fifth with a lead off single from Caveness. A wild pitch moved him into scoring position before Webster single to left field to extend the lead back to seven.
The Keydets rallied in the bottom of the ninth, playing three runs but Wantz struck out Will Malbon to end the game and help UNCG advance.
UNCG will face the loser of the Samford-Wofford matchup tomorrow night at 7 p.m. at Fluor Field.