TC
Colon

FOREST CITY, N.C. -- Third-ranked Tusculum captured the program’s third South Atlantic Conference tournament title with Sunday’s 16-9 victory against No. 4 seed Wingate in the championship game at McNair Field.

With the victory, TC’s seventh in a row, the Pioneers (43-7) earn the league’s automatic bid to next month’s NCAA Division II Tournament, the program’s sixth in school history (2003, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2012).

Tusculum clubbed five home runs on the day, paced by Alexi Colon’s two round-trippers, while Aaron Guinn, Cade Stallings and Matt Henriksen also homered as the Pioneers went a perfect 4-0 in this year’s tournament.

Henriksen was named the SAC Tournament Most Valuable Player as he batted a sizzling .563 during the tournament, including Sunday’s 4-for-4 performance against the Bulldogs (31-23).

Wingate was paced by home runs by Jacob Karr and Jason Hunter. Karr, Hunter and Josh Clark each had two RBIs for the Bulldogs.

Tusculum, who never trailed during this year’s SAC tournament, jumped out to an early 8-1 lead, but had to hold off a furious rally to win the title. Key pitching in the bottom of the sixth inning helped turn the tide in the Pioneers favor for good.  With the Pioneers clinging to a 9-8 lead, Wingate put runners on second and third with none out.

Tusculum reliever John-Austin Shepard entered the game to shut the door. The right-hander struck out the heart of the Bulldog order in Dodson McPherson, Brian Yeung and Casey Allison to preserve the one-run lead.

From there, Tusculum scored five unanswered runs over the next two innings to build a 14-8 lead. Guinn crushed a two-run homer to make the score 11-8 in the seventh. Colon and Henriksen each homered in the top of the eighth, and Tripper Crisson added a RBI on a squeeze play to cap the rally.

After falling behind 8-1 early, Wingate rallied to get back in the game. An RBI-single by Allison and a two-run double by Clark cut the score to 8-4 before the first of Colon’s homers pushed the Tusculum lead back to five.

The Bulldogs pulled within a run with three runs in the bottom of the fourth and another run in the bottom of the fifth. Highlights of the rallies included an RBI-double by Karr, RBI-single by McPherson, a sacrifice fly by Yeung and a solo-homer by Hunter.

Shepard (4-1) earned the victory in relief for the Pioneers with four innings of two-hit relief. The sophomore struck out seven to earn a spot on the All-Tournament team.

“John-Austin Shepard really came up big for us in a very difficult spot. We got production from our entire line-up and they kept fighting the entire game,” Tusculum head coach Doug Jones said. “This group has been special all year and they have been a joy to coach. They play hard and do things with class and have represented our institution in the right way.”

Tusculum finished the game with 19 hits, including four each by Henriksen and Guinn and three-hit performances by Colon and Carlos Santana. Heath Comerford belted a pair doubles, while Cody Coffman also accounted for his team-leading 18th double of the year for his only hit of the game. Coffman has hit safely in his last 25 games, which is the second longest hitting streak during in the modern era of baseball at Tusculum (the record is 28 consecutive games by Maikol Gonzalez during the 2008 season).

Joining Henriksen and Shepard on the SAC All-Tournament team from Tusculum were Stallings, Colon and Adam Sigmon.

Henriksen’s weekend included a 9-for-19 performance where he scored eight runs, with three doubles a home run and nine RBIs. He posted a .938 slugging percentage while drawing five walks, stole a base and was perfect in his 28 total fielding chances at second base.

Sigmon tossed a nine-inning complete game in Tusculum’s 15-1 victory against Wingate in Saturday’s winner’s bracket final. He didn’t surrender a run until the ninth inning as he scattered seven hits, walked one and posted seven strikeouts.

Stallings batted .421 going 8-for-19 with a pair of doubles, a home run and five RBI. Stallings scored eight runs and accounted for a .684 slugging percentage on the weekend.

Colon went 5-for-16 (.313) with three runs and five walks, giving him a nation-leading 59 base on balls -- one-shy of a new SAC single-season record.