GREENWOOD – The No. 20-ranked Lander Bearcats put together one winning rally in the bottom of the ninth inning but fell short in another comeback attempt as they split a Peach Belt Conference double-header against Flagler College Sunday afternoon at Dolny Stadium. Lander won the first game 5-4 and lost the nightcap 6-5.
The Bearcats are 8-1 overall and 1-1 in the Peach Belt. The Saints are 6-2, 1-1. The teams will play Game 3 of their series Monday afternoon at 3 o'clock at Dolny Stadium.
Hit batsmen were the theme in both bottom of the ninth innings for the Bearcats, who won Game 1 when Thomas Berry was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, the third Lander hitter to be plunked in the inning. The Bearcats trailed 4-0 going into the bottom of the seventh inning of the first game.
Flagler hit two more batters in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2 (the Saints hit seven batters in the game) but held on to get the double-header split.
Flagler took a 1-0 lead in the top of the third inning of Game 1 when Matt Morningstar hit a leadoff double and scored on Nick Kranick's two-out RBI single.
The Saints threatened to pad their lead in the sixth when Joe Post singled and Kranick walked. But Lander starting pitcher Dylan Wolchick got Flagler cleanup batter Jake Taylor to hit into a 5-4-3 double play and struck Tyler Vanover out to end the threat.
The Saints increased their lead to 4-0 in the seventh with three unearned runs. Skylar Fox reached on an error and scored as Todd Juliano also reached on an error on a sacrifice bunt attempt. Frankie Sagarese was hit by a pitch, Morningstar bunted the runners to second and third, Andrew Brodbeck hit an RBI single, and another run scored when Post reached on a fielder's choice.
Meanwhile, the Bearcats were shut out for six innings by Flagler starting pitcher Kyle Byrd, who allowed only one hit. Paul Jeanot relieved Byrd to start the seventh and Lander finally got on the scoreboard. Chris Hyatt was hit by a pitch, Erik Lunde walked, and Connor Lewis hit a two-out RBI single past the diving third baseman. But Danny Brown relieved Jeanot and got the third out on a strikeout.
Bearcats reliever Kyle Tate pitched around Taylor's one-out triple in the eighth and Juliano's one-out double in the ninth. That would prove to be important.
Lander pulled within 4-2 in the bottom of the eighth when Berry walked and scored on Colby Painter's pinch hit double to right center.
Flagler brought in Kuehl McEachern to close the game in the bottom of the ninth and he had struck out 10 batters in five innings of previous work. But the Bearcats pulled out the victory with three runs on only one hit without recording an out.
Lunde reached on an error by the second baseman to open the ninth and moved to third on Patrick Grady's single to right. Lewis was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Graham Ramos walked on a 3-2 pitch to force home a run, Lawing was hit by a pitch to bring home the tying run, and Berry was hit by the first pitch he saw to plate the game-winner.
Wolchick pitched 6.1 innings for Lander, allowing four runs, one earned, on six hits while striking out three and walking one. Tate (1-0) pitched 2.2 innings of shutout relief for the Bearcats and was rewarded with the victory.
Flagler starting pitcher Byrd was outstanding, pitching six innings of one-hit ball. He walked five and struck out six. Jeanot, Brown and McEachern (0-1) finished the game for the Saints.
Flagler jumped ahead in Game 2 as well, scoring three times in the top of the first on Taylor's two-run homer to center and Fox's run-scoring double. It was Taylor's second homer of the season.
But Lander tied it with three runs in the bottom of the first. Grady singled into the hole between shortstop and third base, Lewis hit an RBI double to left center, and Berry followed with a two-run homer well over the right-field fence. It was Berry's first home run of the season.
The Saints regained the lead with three runs in the top of the fourth. Fox tripled to the center field wall and scored on Juliano's sacrifice fly to right. Igor Baez walked, Brodbeck singled, and both scored on Post's single to right that Grady let roll off his glove to the wall, making it 6-3.
Lander pulled within 6-4 in the bottom of the fourth when Ramos reached second on an error after striking out, and scored on Lunde's double off the diving left fielder's glove.
The Bearcats closed within 6-5 in the fifth when Lewis walked, stopped at third on Weston Lawing's double, and scored on Ramos's sacrifice fly to center. It would prove to be the last run of the game.
Flagler attempted to pad its lead in the ninth when Juliano hit a two-out triple. But Brandon White, Lander's sixth pitcher of the game, struck out the final batter, setting the stage for the bottom of the ninth.
Berry led off by being hit by a pitch, and pinch runner Thomas Bess moved to second on Lawing's fly ball to deep center. Hyatt was hit by a pitch for the third time in the game and fourth time of the day to put the winning run on base. But Painter grounded into a fielder's choice to second baseman Brodbeck unassisted to end the game.
Leading hitters in the double-header were Grady with three hits for Lander, and Juliano who had four hits (two in each game) for the Saints.
Bearcats starting pitcher Taylor Alvarez (2-1) worked 3.1 innings, allowing five runs on five hits while walking four and striking out no one. Johnny Walker allowed one unearned run in 1.1 innings of relief on three hits and two walks. Matt Thorpe pitched one third of an inning, hitting one batter. Cam Hokanson allowed no runs on one hit in 2.2 innings, striking out four and walking three. Tyler Broome allowed one hit and struck out one in an inning of work while White struck out the only batter he faced.
Flagler starter Jake Brandenberger allowed five runs, four earned, on six hits while walking one and striking out five in 4.1 innings. Justin Ratte (1-0) pitched 2.2 innings of shutout relief and was credited with the win while Mike O'Reilly got his first save of the season.