No. 2 Lander sweeps, clinches first PBC baseball title

Lander celebrates its first ever PBC regular-season baseball championship after sweeping Armstrong Atlantic Saturday at Dolny Stadium. (Photo by Bob Stoner)
Lander celebrates its first ever PBC regular-season baseball championship after sweeping Armstrong Atlantic Saturday at Dolny Stadium. (Photo by Bob Stoner)

GREENWOOD – Thomas Berry had a walk-off hit in Game 1 and Erik Lunde homered twice in the second game as the No. 2 Lander Bearcats clinched their first-ever Peach Belt Conference regular season baseball championship with a double-header sweep over Armstrong Atlantic State Saturday on Senior Day at Dolny Stadium.

Lander won the first game 8-7 on Berry's game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th inning, and the second game 10-4. Cam Hokanson (3-1) was the winning pitcher in relief in both games.

The Bearcats finished the regular season 43-6 overall and 24-6 in the Peach Belt, edging Columbus State for the title. Columbus State swept a double-header against North Georgia Saturday, but Lander's three-game sweep put them over the top due in part to Columbus's loss on Friday.

The Bearcats celebrated with a dog pile on the field after left fielder Weston Lawing caught a fly ball for the final out of the night.

Armstrong Atlantic fell to 25-18 overall and finished 15-15 in the PBC.

Both teams will play in the single-elimination Peach Belt Conference Tournament May 10-11 at Roberto Hernandez Stadium on the campus of USC Aiken. The NCAA Division II Southeast Regionals will follow May 15-18, possibly at Dolny Stadium.

Before the game, the Lander senior class was recognized including pitchers who have a combined record of 40-13 with a 3.64 earned run average and 360 strikeouts, and hitters who have totaled 789 hits, 153 doubles, 77 homers, 504 RBI, 387 walks, 157 hit by pitches, 616 runs, a .326 batting average and .450 on-base percentage coming into Saturday's double-header.

Seniors Lunde, Tyler Broome, Austin Dunn, Patrick Grady, Ryan Jones, Connor Lewis, Graham Ramos, Kyle Tate, Tyler Wilson and Dylan Wolchik were all recognized on the field before the game as well as senior athletic trainer Sarah Fuller.

Another Lander single-game record fell in the third inning of Game 1 Saturday when Berry walked for the 48th time, breaking Robert Skinner's school record from 2011.

On Friday, Lewis broke Lander's single-season total base record while Grady set a new mark for doubles in a season, both passing Jesse Barbaro's 2007 totals. Weeks ago, Grady broke the runs scored record and Lewis the home run mark. The team broke a school record for wins as well.

Lander exploded for five runs in the bottom of the third inning of Game 1 off Armstrong ace Ethan Bader, with all scoring after two were out. Grady blooped a single to left, Berry drew with 48th walk of the season, and Lawing was hit by a pitch to load the bases. Ramos hit a two-run single up the middle, Colby Painter belted a two-run triple off the right field wall, and Austin Dunn had a run-scoring double.

The Pirates pulled within 5-1 in the top of the fifth when Matt Wisniewski singled, moved to third on a single by Joey Lupus, and scored on Cody Sherlin's single. But Taylor Alvarez escaped further damage when he induced Tyler Avera to hit into a double play.

Wisniewski and Lupus hit RBI singles to pull Armstrong within 5-3 in the top of the sixth.

The Bearcats added an important insurance run with two out in the seventh when Lawing doubled to right center and scored on a single by Ramos, making it 6-3.

But Armstrong Atlantic battled back against the Lander bullpen, tying the game with three two-out runs in the top of the eighth. Johnny Walker relieved Bearcats starter Alvarez at the start of the eighth and retired the first batter but walked Wisniewski and Lupus. Kyle Tate relieved Walker and struck out the first batter he faced, but allowed Sherlin's two-run double off diving left fielder Wilson's glove, and Avera's game-tying single through the middle.

Bader retired the side in the bottom of the eighth and Brandon White allowed one hit in the top of the ninth, setting the stage for the bottom of the ninth. Tyler Green relieved Armstrong starting pitcher Bader and walked leadoff hitter Lewis on a 3-2 pitch. Berry sacrificed Lewis to second, and Green intentionally walked Lawing. But Green retired Ramos and Painter on fly balls to the outfield, sending the game into extra innings.

The Pirates took a 7-6 lead with a run in the top of the 10th off White when Lupus drew a leadoff walk, moved to second on Dalton Johnson's sacrifice bunt, stopped at third on Sherlin's ground out, and scored on Avera's single through the right side. Hokanson relieved White to get the final out.

Lander responded in the bottom of the 10th as Chris Hyatt hit a leadoff single to left and moved to second on Thomas Bess's sacrifice bunt, prompting the Pirates to replace Green with Mitchell Dolan. Lunde greeted Dolan with an RBI triple to deep right to tie it, and after Dolan intentionally walked Grady and Lewis to load the bases, Berry crushed a walk-off hit to the wall. Officially a single, the ball landed at the base of the wall in left center as Lunde walked home.

Hokanson (2-1) was credited with the win and Green (2-3) took the loss.

Alvarez gave up three runs in seven innings, leaving the game with the lead. Pitching to contact, he allowed 12 hits and was benefitted by great defense up the middle by second baseman Ramos and shortstop Lunde. Alvarez struck out three and walked no one.

Pirates starter Bader allowed six runs on nine hits in eight innings, striking out four and walking four. He, like Alvarez, got a no decision.

Leading hitters in Game 1 for Lander were Ramos, 3-for-5 with three RBI; Painter, 2-for-5 with a triple and two RBI; and Grady, 2-for-4 with two walks.

Leading hitters for Armstrong were Avera, 3-for-6 with two RBI; Sherlin, 2-for-6 with three RBI; and Zach Lance, Wisniewski and Lupus with two hits apiece.

The Bearcats got off to a tough start in Game 2 when starting pitcher Mason McCullough walked three, hit a batter, and threw a wild pitch in the top of the second inning. Clayton Miller walked, Lance was hit by a pitch on a bunt attempt, and Barry Aldridge bunted the runners to second and third. Miller scored on a wild pitch, and McCullough walked the next two batters to load the bases. But he retired the next two batters to escape with just a 1-0 deficit.

Lander answered with three runs in the bottom of the second. Ramos struck out but reached first on a wild pitch, Painter walked and Hyatt bunted the runners over. Ramos scored when Bess grounded out to second, and Lunde followed with a two-run homer to right. It was Lunde's 11th round-tripper of the season.

Armstrong Atlantic tied it with two runs in the top of the fifth on Mason Hart's RBI single off McCullough and Wisniewski's bases loaded walk off reliever Hokanson. Bearcats pitchers walked four in the inning, including two wild pitches by McCullough.

Lunde led off the bottom of the fifth with his second consecutive homer, a blast over the right-field wall that was his 12th of the season. Grady followed with a double down the third-base line and Lewis hit an RBI double down the first-base line, giving Lander a 5-3 lead.

The Pirates pulled within 5-4 in the top of the sixth when Sherlin walked, advanced to second on a wild pitch, moved to third on Avera's fly out to center, and scored on another Hokanson wild pitch.

Lander broke the game open with four runs in the seventh, including a two-run double by Ramos. Bess was hit by a pitch to force home the third run of the inning and Lunde's bases-loaded walk completed the rally.

The Bearcats made it 10-4 in the eight when Berry singled, stopped at third on Lawing's double, and scored on a wild pitch.

Meanwhile, Jones, who is 9-0 as a mid-week starter, came in the game in the seventh inning and finished up for his second save of the season with three innings of two-hit shutout ball.

McCullough worked 4.2 innings, allowing three runs on three hits while walking seven, hitting one and throwing four wild pitches. He struck out three.

Leading hitters for the Bearcats in Game 2 were Lunde who was 3-for-3 with two homers, a double and four RBI; and Lewis, 2-for-5. Hart led Armstrong with two hits.