Pressure is on for West Florida
Christopher Newport comes from behind for tourney title
Life as the No. 1 team in the nation is a challenge, and top-ranked West Florida took one on the chin in the second game of its Gulf South Conference doubleheader against Alabama-Huntsville on Saturday.
The Argonauts fell 9-5 in a game that featured four lead changes and their school-record 22-game win streak came to an end. West Florida had a 4-3 lead before the Chargers used a six-run outburst in the bottom of the fifth to take control.
Eric Deese gave Huntsville the lead for good at 5-4 and helped hand West Florida starter Ben Hawkins his first loss of the season. Hawkins walked five and allowed eight runs in 4 1/3 innings of action. He managed to ring up six strikeouts but dropped to 9-1 on the season.
West Florida, which lost for the first time since a 3-2 setback in nine innings to Valdosta State on March 5, had won the opener 8-0 behind the spectacular performance of Jason Postill.
The senior pitched eight scoreless innings and struck out 10 batters. Tyler Hastings hit a two-run homer to highlight the offensive play of the Argonauts.
Ryan Griffin took control for the Chargers in the nightcap on Saturday. He went 6 1/3 innings and stayed on track despite giving up a three-run home run to Greg Pron, who also hit a solo shot in the first game.
Griffin stretched his record to 5-1 as he struck out six and walked five. Only one of his five runs was earned. West Florida (37-5, 12-2 GSC) bounced back on Sunday with a 10-2 win against the Chargers (25-16, 8-7) in the series finale.
Pron led the way again. He capitalized on all four of his at-bats, punctuating the effort with a home run in his third consecutive game. He drove in three runs and also scored three runs.
Daniel Vargas-Vila was impressive as well. He struck out nine in 6 1/3 innings of action while Shane Waller was brilliant in relief, striking out all eight batters he faced, getting the last seven batters to strike out swinging.
West Florida had given up one run or less in nine of the 22 games during the streak. The Argonauts will play their final home series this coming weekend against Valdosta State.
Need to Know
• Top-ranked Shenandoah seemed to have the USA South Conference tournament championship within reach until Christopher Newport buried the celebration hopes of the Hornets with a 5-4 come-from-behind win at Burlington Athletic Stadium in North Carolina.
Ironically, it was Drue Vernon who put the exclamation point on the rally in the bottom of the eighth inning. Vernon, who began his career with the Hornets, hit a two-out single to right that brought the winning run across the plate. Vernon is in his second season with the Captains, the No. 4 team in the nation.
Ryan Fleischman was the hero on the mound, rising up in a pressure-packed save situation. He put away the final two batters he faced on strikeouts to secure the championship for the Captains, not to mention an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III tournament.
• Tyler Choate stepped up for defending national champion Southern Indiana in a sweep of Lewis on Sunday afternoon. Choate swung his bat with authority, hitting four home runs in a pair of wins against the Flyers in a key Great Lakes Valley Conference battle.
His highlight was a grand slam in a 20-4 win against the Flyers in the nightcap, pushing the Screaming Eagles in front 4-0. Southern Indiana, ranked 14th in the nation, grinded out an 11-10 win in the opener, with Choate drilling homers in his first two at-bats of the game. With the two wins, the Screaming Eagles raised their record to 23-9 overall and to 15-3 in the GLVC.
• Frostburg State went 4-1 in the Capital Athletic Conference tournament and prevailed as conference champions with a 9-5 win against Mary Washington. The Bobcats were rocked 15-6 in the first game against the Eagles but bounced back with a 9-5 win in the finale to clinch the title and a spot in the NCAA DIII tournament.
Greg Ross paved the way, racking up eight strikeouts and allowing three runs in six innings. His season strikeout total is at 84. It wasn’t the first time Ross had risen to the occasion. Against Salisbury, with a trip to the title game on the line, the senior came in with one out in the ninth and runners on base.
Frostburg State was clinging to an 8-7 lead and Ross made it hold up as he threw a strike past Nick Walls with the count at 2-2. The game had been suspended because of lightning the day before and Ross was called upon to finish it. The win was the 100th for head coach Guy Robertson, who became the third coach in school history to win at least 100 games.
• Barry used an impressive defensive effort to slow down hot-hitting Tampa in a Sunshine Conference series sweep of eighth-ranked Tampa over the weekend. Barry won 8-7, 10-1 and 8-1 to remain atop the league standings.
The 11th-ranked Buccaneers limited the Spartans to eight runs, a stunning number when you consider they came into the series as the top-hitting team in the league at .342. Tampa was averaging nearly eight runs per game but was baffled by a Barry pitching staff that combined for a 1.93 ERA in the series.
Freshman star Adrian English of Barry had no problem hitting the ball, however. He cranked out eight hits, including two home runs, and hit .615 in the series. He also drove in five runs as the Bucs swept the Spartans for the first time in school history.