COLUMBUS, Ga. – UNCP scored a pair of unearned runs in the bottom of the first inning to get a leg up on what proved to be a pitcher’s duel as the 10th-ranked Braves captured their first-ever Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship with a 2-1 victory against Augusta State on Thursday afternoon at historic Golden Park.

The win marked the ninth consecutive victory for UNCP (42-10) which completed a perfect 4-0 run through the conference’s postseason gala with the result. Augusta State (25-30) saw its season end despite recording four wins in the tournament, but was eliminated via two losses to the Braves, including one setback in the quarterfinal round.

Thursday’s victory gave the Braves an automatic bid into the NCAA postseason.

UNCP got one hit apiece from all-tournament teamer Josh Haley, Jason Coker and Aaron Parnell, but made good on both RBI opportunities by Eitan Maoz and Joe Mangum. Augusta State got two hits apiece from Andy Onufrak, Alex Walker and Casey Hanrahan in the losing effort. Walker also provided the Jaguars’ lone RBI.

All-tournament team pitcher Brian Willis (7-3) struck out seven, walked two and yielded six hits and one earned run across 6.1 innings of work to grab the win for the Braves, while tournament MVP Braxton Lewis recorded his ninth save of the campaign after striking out four and allowing three hits over 2.2 scoreless relief innings.

First team all-conference right-hander Scott Shipman (8-3) struck out seven and allowed just three hits and one walk over his fourth complete game of the season, but saddled the tough-luck loss after yielding two unearned runs in the bottom of the first.

Augusta State got three consecutive one-out singles in the first to load the bases, and then used Walker’s two-out RBI single to gain the game’s first lead. The Braves would answer in the bottom of the frame, utilizing a one-out double from Jason Coker, as well as an ill-timed ASU fielding error to knot the score back up. An infield single by Aaron Parnell moments later loaded the bases, before Mangum drew a full-count walk to bring in the eventual go-ahead score.

After surrendering a one-out single to Haley in the second, Shipman allowed just one more base runner the rest of the way out via a wild pitch following a strikeout of Parnell in the third. He retired the final 17 batters he faced in the game. Willis, likewise, was dominant after allowing four singles in the first inning. He faced four or less batters in the next five frames, retiring the sides in order in the second, third and fourth innings.

Augusta State had a prime opportunity to tie up the score in the eighth but, after getting a pair of runners into scoring position via a pair of two-out singles and a fielding error by the UNCP defense, Lewis struck out Walker to slam the door on the threat. The Jaguars tried to manufacture the tying run in the ninth, getting a runner into position via a leadoff single and an ensuing sac bunt, but Lewis induced a fly out from the bat of Colby Adeeb, walked leadoff batter Caleb Saggus and then struck out Jake Sutton to end the game.