CHARLESTON, S.C. – The regular season came to a close for the UNCG baseball team Saturday as The Citadel won both ends of a doubleheader, 13-12 and 14-11, to complete a series sweep of the Spartans at Riley Park.
The Blue and Gold built sizable leads in both contests but could not hold off the Bulldogs in the end.
UNCG (21-27, 8-16 SoCon) ends the regular season in ninth place in the league standings and will play No. 8 seed Furman in the first Southern Conference Baseball Championship play in game Tuesday at noon inside Riley Park. The winner of that contest will advance into the main double-elimination bracket and meet regular season champion Western Carolina on Wednesday at 1 p.m. Meanwhile, The Citadel finishes with a 23-32 overall and record and an 8-18 mark in conference action – good for 10th place.
The Blue and Gold finished the regular season with a .309 batting average as a team, ensuring UNCG will finish as the top hitting team in the league for the second-straight season after doing it for the first time in program history last year.
Despite the losses, the day saw a couple of Spartans hit their first collegiate home runs in freshmen Jake Kusz (Durham, N.C./Riverside) and Dillon Stewart (Dunn, N.C./Triton). Additionally, junior Aaron Wright (Asheville, N.C./Chattanooga State) recorded his first long ball in a UNCG uniform. In all, the Blue and Gold hit seven round-trippers in the series after coming into the weekend with only 18 in 45 games.
Wright ended the doubleheader with six hits in 10 at bats while adding two runs scored and five RBI. Classmate Hunter King (Mason City, Iowa/Northern Iowa Area CC) was 5-for-7 in the two contests with four runs scored and two driven in. Stewart earned the start in the second game and produced a double and the home run to end up with a run scored and three RBI.
After building a 2-1 advantage after the first inning in the opener, the Spartans scored five runs on four hits in the second inning to take a commanding 7-1 lead. Junior Zac MacAneney hit his third career home run in the frame – a three-run blast – before junior Tyler Long (Halifax, Va./Louisburg College) recorded a two-run double with two away.
A three-run homer by junior Jordan McDonald (Perth, Australia/Chattanooga State) in the fifth made it a 12-3 contest in favor of UNCG after the Spartans scored on a failed pickoff attempt in the top of the fourth. Neither team scored in the sixth, but The Citadel put forth its first rally of the day in the latter innings.
The Bulldogs touched up the Spartan bullpen for three runs on three hits in the bottom of the seventh, leaving the Blue and Gold with a 12-6 cushion heading to the eighth. However, The Citadel used just four hits to explode for seven two-out runs in the bottom of the frame to forge in front, 13-12. Johnathan Stokes had a two-run home run in the inning while Hughston Armstrong capped the outburst with a two-run single to center for the winning runs. UNCG went down in order in the top of the ninth to end the contest.
Layton Meachem (1-0) earned the win in relief after throwing 3.1 innings of scoreless baseball and allowing the Spartans just two hits. Junior Tyler Frazier (Fairfax Station, Va./South County) suffered his third loss of the season after giving up three runs (two earned) on just one hit in only a third of an inning pitched.
Kusz’ home run in the top of the second staked UNCG to another early lead, but The Citadel tied it up quickly in the bottom of the stanza thanks to a Calvin Orth RBI single. Both teams plated six runs in their respective halves of the third before a RBI groundout by Wright gave the Spartans the lead back in the top of the fourth. The Blue and Gold then added single runs in the fifth and the sixth innings to establish a 10-7 going to the bottom of the sixth.
A sacrifice fly drew the Bulldogs to within two runs at 10-8 before The Citadel benefitted from a pair of two-out bases loaded walks to tie the score at 10 in the seventh. A RBI single by Wright briefly put the Spartans back ahead briefly in the top of the eighth, but the home side scored four times in the bottom of the inning to put the game away.
Long (1-1) took the loss after allowing four runs on three hits in just a third of an inning pitched while Zach Lavery (4-0) was credited with the win as he pitched two thirds of an inning giving up just one hit.