Bearcats sweep Flagler, clinch PBC Tournament spot

Kevin Childs

GREENWOOD – The Lander Bearcats celebrated Senior Day by clinching a spot in the Peach Belt Conference Baseball Tournament with a double-header sweep over Flagler College 10-0 and 7-3 Sunday at Stephen Dolny Stadium with seniors playing a big part in the victories. AJ Nunziato had a homer, five hits and six RBI in the two games, Kevin Childs had a huge three-run homer in Game 2, and Ross Davis was the winning pitcher of the second game with an outstanding performance in relief.

Also, Lander junior Chris Thomas pitched eight shutout innings in the opening game, and freshman Colby Painter reached base five of his first six plate appearances.

Lander improved to 31-16 overall and 15-12 in the PBC, eliminating both Flagler and UNC Pembroke from the tournament. The Bearcats won two of the three games in the series, with Flagler winning on Saturday. Lander finished 19-9 in its inaugural season at Dolny Stadium.

The Saints fell to 24-21 overall and 11-16 in the Peach Belt. Also, UNC Pembroke was eliminated from tournament contention with a 5-2 loss to Armstrong Atlantic State Sunday, finishing 14-15 in PBC play.

The victories gave the Bearcats at least a fourth place finish in the PBC East, automatically qualifying them for the tournament for the second consecutive year.

Lander will conclude its PBC season next weekend with a three-game series at North Georgia College & State University Sunday, April 29 (double-header) and Monday, April 30.

It was the final home games for Lander seniors Nunziato, Childs, Davis, Jordan Owens, Cory Hopper, Michael White, Todd Hughson, Ben Runyon, Scott Elitzky and Ches Courtney. All made big contributions in their Lander careers.

White, a Greenwood native, sung the national anthem.

Game 2 had two rain delays and a lights malfunction totaling two hours and 20 minutes, with the double-header starting at 1 o'clock and ending close to 9:30 p.m.

The Bearcats had a scare in the first inning of Game 1 when Flagler's Cade Smith hit a line drive single off Lander starting pitcher Thomas's leg. Thomas went to the ground for a couple minutes, was observed by the training staff, threw some warm-up pitches and stayed in the game. All he did the rest of the way was allow just one more hit, pitching eight shutout innings of two-hit ball while getting plenty of offensive support in the 10-0 win.

Lander took a 3-0 lead in the second inning of Game 1 with the help of a hit batsman, two hits and two errors. Owens led off by being hit by a pitch, moved to second on a wild pitch, stopped at third when Childs grounded out, and scored on Jeff May's grounder to second. With two outs, Painter singled to left and scored on Ian Harvey's triple into the right field corner. Harvey continued home when the Flagler first baseman made a poor throw that got past the third baseman.

The Bearcats increased their lead to 7-0 in the fourth, scoring four runs on five hits. The rally started with a double by Childs, and although he got thrown out at third on a sacrifice bunt attempt, Painter and Harvey followed with singles to load the bases. Aaron Poole hit a two-run single to left, and Nunziato slashed a two-RBI single to right.

Lander scored twice more in the fifth when Painter walked, Poole singled, and Patrick Grady and Nunziato hit RBI singles to make it 9-0.

The Bearcats went up 10-0 in the sixth on May's fourth homer of the season, a blast over the left-field fence.

Leading hitters for Lander in Game 1 were Painter, 3-for-4 with a triple and three runs scored; Nunziato, 2-for-4 with three RBI; Harvey, 2-for-4 with a triple and two runs scored; and Poole, 2-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI. May was 1-for-5 with a homer, two runs scored and two RBI.

Thomas (6-2) allowed just a single and double in eight innings, striking out six and walking two. Courtney pitched the ninth inning, allowing the first two batters to reach on singles, but getting out of the jam with a double play and a pop up to second to end the game with a combined four-hit shutout.

Jack Charleston (1-7) took the Game 1 loss for the Saints, allowing seven runs, six earned, on seven hits in 3.1 innings. Jake Brandenberger, Drew Heifner and Garrett Bush finished the game on the mound for Flagler.

Game 2 started in a light rain that gradually became heavier, causing a delay with two outs and a Flagler runner at third in the top of the first inning. One hour and 14 minutes later, Lander starting pitcher Hopper got the final out to end the top of the first.

The Bearcats took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first when Harvey singled, moved to second on Poole's ground out, stole third, and scored on Nunziato's sacrifice fly to right.

The Saints tied it with a run in the top of the third when Will Percy reached on a bunt singled, stole second and scored on Smith's double into the gap in left-center.

Flagler threatened in the fourth when John Sgromolo singled and moved to third on Charlie Stewart's double with nobody out. But Hopper struck out the next two and retired the final batter on a comebacker to the mound.

Lander regained a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the fourth when Nunziato singled to right, stole second, and scored on single by Owens.

The Saints took their first lead of the day, 3-2, in the top of the fifth when Smith and Brett Moreland singled, and Sgromolo belted a two-run double into the right-field corner. Then with Stewart at the plate, the game was delayed again by a heavy shower at 6:45 p.m.

Lander's players who twice had to move the tarp on and off the field while also having to put sand down, switched out of their wet uniforms into their road uniforms. After a 50-minute delay, play resumed with Davis taking over on the mound. Davis retired the last two batters in the fifth.

The Bearcats tied it in the bottom of the sixth on Nunziato's solo homer well over the right-field fence, his sixth of the season.

Lander scored four in the seventh to take the lead for good. Poole singled off the second baseman's glove, Grady was hit by a pitch for the 27th time this season, Nunziato collected his sixth RBI of the day with a single to right, and Childs followed with a three-run homer, a blast over the fence in right center which was his first of the season.

The game went into the ninth when with one out, the lights went out. After a delay of almost 20 minutes, Davis got the final two outs for the win.

Leading hitters in Game 2 for the Bearcats were Nunziato, 3-for-3 with a homer, three runs scored and three RBI; Thomas Berry was 2-for-4; May went 2-for-3; and Childs was 1-for-3 with a homer and three RBI.

Leading hitters for Flagler in Game 2 were Smith, 2-for-4; and Sgromolo, 2-for-3 with two RBI.

Davis (2-3) was the winning pitcher with four-plus innings of one-hit relief with five strikouts and one walk. Saints reliever Max Rusch (5-4) took the loss, allowing the go-ahead runs in the seventh.