GREENVILLE, S.C. – A three-run seventh inning, highlighted by home runs from both Ryan Caveness and Zack Budzik, was offset by a pair of multi-run innings by Mercer, who earned a 9-5 victory over UNC Greensboro in the third round of the Southern Conference Baseball Championship held at Flour Field in Greenville, S.C. on Friday afternoon.
Mercer (31-27) grabbed the lead in the top of the first inning when Kel Johnson sent a 1-2 pitch over the left field wall for a home run and the 1-0 advantage. Two innings later, Mercer put four runs across and established a 5-0 lead, as the Bears capitalized on five straight hits, including a double by Billy Knight.
The Spartans (34-20) scored their first runs in the fourth after a leadoff single through the right side by Greg Hardison opened the frame. Two batters later, Austin Embler doubled to left-centerfield to plate Hardison for the first UNCG run. Caleb Webster followed with a single to left, putting runners on the corners, before a Josh Madole base hit resulted in the second run of the inning.
Mercer retaliated with two runs in the top of the fifth, assuming a 7-2 lead in the process. The Bears added their eighth run of the game in the top of the seventh, scoring on a wild pitch by Colin Best.
The Spartans fought back in the bottom of the seventh, scoring three runs on two hits, after redshirt-senior Zach Kuchmaner drew a leadoff walk to open the frame. Two batters later, Caveness lifted his sixth home run of the season over the centerfield wall to trim the Bears’ lead to 8-4. Zack Budzik followed with his second home run in as many days, and fourth of the season, to make for a three-run Mercer lead.
With redshirt-senior reliever Chad Sykes on the mound for the Spartans, Mercer’s Alex Crotty homered down the left field line to provide an insurance run. Sykes struck out Kyle Dockus, extending his strikeout record to 65 straight games dating back to March 9, 2016. The Spartans closed out the ninth with singles by Kuchmaner and Caveness, but the rally fell short as the season drew to a close.
Four UNCG hitters had multi-hit performances in the game, including Caveness (2-4, 2 RBI, run, HR), Hardison (2-5, run) Madole (2-4, RBI) and Webster (2-4). Six pitchers toed the rubber for the Spartans, combining for five strikeouts along the way. Jake Mayhew led all Spartan hurlers with three strikeouts, while Best and Sykes recorded one each.
SoCON TOURNAMENT GAME 3 NOTES (vs. Mercer)
-UNCG splits the season series with the Bears (2-2)
-Spartans are now 11-7 all-time against Mercer dating back to Feb. 27, 1998 and 10-6 all-time against the Bears under head coach Link Jarrett.
-Reliever Chad Sykes struck out Kyle Dockus, extending his strikeout record to 65 straight games dating back to March 9, 2016.
-The Spartans finished the game with 12 hits, marking the 26th time this season that UNCG had double-digit hits in the game.
-The home runs by both Caveness and Budzik resulted in the eighth multi-home run game by UNCG in 2019.
-Freshman Zack Budzik ends the season on a 17-game hitting streak, extended by his home run in the seventh inning.