UNC Pembroke

MOUNT OLIVE, N.C. – Keith Whitman homered twice to provide more than enough run support for a two-hit shutout from fellow senior Josh Bagley as seventh-ranked UNC-Pembroke shut down 14th-ranked Columbus State 6-0 in the opening game of the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional on Thursday afternoon at Scarborough Field.

The triumph gave the hot-handed Braves (43-10) their 10th consecutive victory and advanced the Black and Gold into Friday’s winner’s bracket game. The setback marked the third consecutive loss for Columbus State (32-18).

Whitman’s homers, his 11th and 12th of the season, highlighted a 3 for 4, three RBI day at the plate for the Elkin native and helped the Braves tally their 28th double-digit hitting attack of the season. Senior Jason Coker doubled and drove in two runs on a 2 for 5 effort, while Aaron Parnell tripled and singled twice on a 3 for 4 hitting line for the Braves as well.

Leadoff hitter Ryan Lewis tallied both Columbus State hits in the outing en route to turning in a 2 for 4 performance.

Bagley (6-3) worked the second complete game in his last four appearances and struck out a career-high 13 to grab the win for the Braves. He retired 19 of the last 20 batters he faced after surrendering a leadoff walk and a one-out single in the top of the third inning. Former Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year (2010) award winner Thomas Campbell (7-4) was saddled with the loss for the Cougars after allowing four earned runs on eight hits and a trio of walks in 6.1 innings. He also struck out four.

“I thought Josh threw a fabulous baseball game, we played very good defense and we got a couple big home runs out of Keith. That was the story of the game,” said UNCP head coach Paul O’Neil. “I think the (winning) the first game is the most important. You have to stay in the winner’s bracket, so we were going to do everything we needed to do to win this one. I don’t have to say a whole lot to these guys this time of year. They know what they have to do. They are older guys and they are just going out and playing right now.

“(Getting a complete game) is the second thing in the formula of tournament play. That’s the second piece of the puzzle if you want to play yourself deep into a tournament – you need to have a guy go out there and get a complete game - and we got it today. He only gave up two hits to a very good Columbus State team.”

A pitcher’s duel for the first three innings of action, Whitman gave the Braves the lead for good with a leadoff homer in the bottom of the fourth after fouling off a 1-and-2 offering from Campbell. Alex Pearce’s leadoff walk, as well as an ensuing double from Josh Haley, put a pair of runners into scoring position for UNCP in the fourth and set the table for a two-run single from Coker that stretched out the advantage to 3-0. Whitman would strike again moments later, this time with a towering home run over the fence in left field after fouling off a 1-and-2 offering from reliever Blake Sills.

Pearce hit a one-out single and advanced to third on a two-base error by Lewis in left field, and then gave UNCP an insurance run when he scored on a wild pitch from Sills.

“I was throwing all of my pitches for strikes today,” Bagley said. “I was getting ahead of the batters and my slider was working. I was able to get in on a few guys, kept the ball down and was able to get the ground ball (out) when I needed to.”