GREENVILLE, S.C. – Last Friday night, Spartan baseball-alum Hunter Smith (Whiteville, N.C./Gardner-Webb) and the Greenville Drive won the South Atlantic League Championship, the first in franchise history. Greenville defeated the Kannapolis Intimidators, 8-3 with Smith earning the win in the deciding game. The Drive finished the regular season 79-60 and earned a spot in the SAL playoffs by going 41-28 and winning the first half of the Southern Division.
The playoffs consisted of a best-of-three series with the second half winners of the Southern Division, the Charleston Riverdogs. Greenville took that series, 2-1 before moving to the best-of-five series with Kannapolis. The Drive took three of four games played and clinched the SAL championship at home at Fluor Field, the site of UNCG’s 2017 Southern Conference Tournament Championship.
Smith worked out of the bullpen for the Drive this season. The former Spartan ace worked in 36 games, logging 73 innings during the regular season. Smith earned a 3-3 record and recorded eight saves in 10 opportunities. The eight saves were second most for the Drive in 2017. He recorded a 3.45 earned run average and struck out 68 hitters.
In the playoffs, Smith made three appearances in eight games. His first appearance came in the Southern Division series against Charleston. Smith came in and steadied middle innings of the second game. After former Western Carolina pitcher Brendan Nail allowed two runs, Smith worked the next 1.2 innings without allowing a run or a hit, and stranded an inherited runner. Charleston won the contest 2-1 before Greenville took the third game 5-0 the following night.
In the SAL finals against the Intimidators, Smith worked in two games earning a save in his first appearance and got the win in his second. Smith combined with Jhonathan Diaz to shutout Kannapolis in his first outing. The former Spartan went 2.2 innings, allowing just one hit and retiring eight of the nine batters he faced as Greenville took the game, 2-0. Having won the first game of the series, Greenville took a 2-0 series lead back to Fluor Field.
In the final game, Smith entered with the score tied at three in the fifth inning. He worked 2.1 scoreless frames without allowing a hit and struck out a game-high four batters in the process. The Drive offense scored five runs with Smith pitching to help him earn the win. Nail and Juan Florentino followed Smith out of the bullpen; the pair allowed just one hit and combined to strikeout three batters to give the Drive its first SAL Championship.