GREENVILLE, S.C. – Freshman Zack Budzik cranked a two-run ninth-inning home run over the left field wall at Fluor Field to help UNC Greensboro earn a 4-2 victory against VMI in the second game of the Southern Conference Baseball Championship on Thursday, May 23.
UNCG sophomore Coleman Sawyer led off the ninth with a walk, moving to second on a wild pitch with Ryan Caveness at the plate. Budzik, the ninth hitter in the Spartan (34-19) lineup, turned on a 2-2 pitch and sent it 376-feet over the left field wall to provide UNCG with the 4-2 advantage. It is his second game-winning home run of the season, the first coming against Furman on April 6, which ended a 13-inning affair.
Redshirt senior pitcher Chad Sykes returned to the mound for his third straight inning in the bottom of the ninth, fanning two VMI hitters in the process. Sykes (6-3) scattered three hits and two walks over three innings on the mound, while striking out a total of four Keydet hitters.
The trio of Sykes, Phillip Sanderson and Brandon Stephens combined to strike out 15 of the 43 VMI batters they faced, marking the fifth time this season that UNCG has struck out at least 15 opposing hitters in a game. Sanderson, the Spartan starter, worked the first 2.1 innings, allowed four hits and one run while striking out three. Stephens logged the next 3.2 innings out of the bullpen, tying his single-game season-high in strikeouts (eight) while allowing one run on three hits.
Sykes took over in the seventh and would spend the final three innings on the mound for the Spartans. He has now recorded a strikeout in his last 64 appearances, a streak that began versus UNC Wilmington in 2016.
Offensively, UNCG emerged with six hits and one extra-base hit, which came in the form of Budzik’s home run. Caleb Webster, who finished 2-for-4 from the plate, had his 20th multi-hit game of the season. Budzik (1-4, 2 RBI, run, HR) became the Spartans’ first hitter of the season with a 16-game hitting streak, breaking a three-way tie with Sawyer and Josh Madole, who had 15-game hitting streaks, respectively.
Austin Embler was also responsible for an RBI in the game, finishing 1-for-3 from the plate in the process. Madole recorded one RBI for UNCG after finishing 1-for-5 at the plate.
The UNCG offense established itself early with a run in the first after Embler worked the count to draw a one-out walk. Webster followed with a single, moving Embler to third, before a grounder by Madole plated the redshirt-senior second baseman for the 1-0 Spartan lead.
VMI tied the game at one-all in the bottom of the third after a single to right field by Cody Warner scored Jonathan Clines from third. Two innings later, the Keydets picked up their second run of the contest again on a Warner single, which scored Ryan Hatten, who had reached third on a two-out triple to centerfield.
UNCG returns to action at Fluor Field on Friday, May 24 at 3:30 p.m. when it will take on the loser of the Mercer / Samford game.
SoCON TOURNAMENT GAME 2 NOTES (vs. VMI)
-Spartans are now 28-14 in head-to-head meetings with VMI, including 11 under the direction of Link Jarrett as head coach.
-UNCG is 2-1 against VMI in the SoCon Tournament under Jarrett’s direction.
-Spartan reliever Brandon Stephens finished the game with eight strikeouts, tying his single-game season-high. Stephens has had at least four strikeouts in six games this season, including eight versus Furman (April 6).
-Zack Budzik has two game-winning home runs to his credit in 2019, the other coming against Furman (11-9, 13 innings).
-Zack Budzik owns the longest hitting streak by any Spartan this season (16 games), breaking a three-way tie with Coleman Sawyer and Josh Madole, who had 15-game streaks as well.
-UNCG recorded 15 strikeouts in a game for the fifth time this season. The previous 15-strikeout performances took place against High Point (Feb. 19; 16), Penn (March 2; 20), Furman (April 6; 16), VMI (May 23; 15).
-Chad Sykes fanned four VMI hitters in the victory, marking the seventh time this season that the Spartan reliever has tallied at least four K’s in an appearance.