AIKEN – Connor Lewis smacked three of Lander's six home runs Saturday afternoon to lead the top-seeded Bearcat baseball team to a 14-4, first-round win over eighth-seeded Francis Marion in the Peach Belt Conference Tournament hosted by USC Aiken at Roberto Hernandez Stadium. (Tournament Website)
Lander, the second-ranked team in the country, advances to Sunday's semifinal-round and will face the winner of No. 4 Georgia College/No. 5 UNC Pembroke at 10 a.m. The championship game of the single-elimination tournament is scheduled for 5 p.m. Sunday.
The tournament champion receives an automatic berth into the Southeast Regional, which will be held May 15-18 at a yet to be determined site.
The Bearcats – who have won 15 straight games – stretch their best season ever to 45-6, while FMU ends the year at 28-23.
Lewis, who extended his Lander single-season home run record to 19, becomes the third LU player to hit three homers in a game. John Harper first achieved the feat against USC Spartanburg in 1998 and Jordan Owens did so against Flagler in 2010. Lewis also broke his own school single-season record for RBI and now has 66.
Taylor Alvarez (9-2) earned the win on the mound in relief, striking out seven and allowing four hits in seven shutout innings.
The Patriot's Cody Dix (3-2) suffered the loss after walking one and allowing two earned runs on two hits.
FMU took a 4-0 lead in the first inning on a two-RBI double by Conner Wessel and RBI singles by Zac Lenns and Brett Fulmer.
Lander started its comeback a home run at a time. Lewis started with a leadoff homer in the third to cut the Patriot lead to 4-1. Thomas Bess and Erik Lunde smacked back-to-back roundtrippers in the fourth, followed by Lewis' second home run – a two-run blast – which gave Lander a 5-4 advantage.
The Bearcats added three runs in the fifth on Patrick Grady's RBI single and Lewis' third and final homer, another two-run shot, that put LU up 8-4.
Lander made it 10-4 in the seventh when Lunde scored on a fielder's choice and Thomas Berry doubled in Lewis.
The Bearcats notched four more runs in the eighth after Bess' RBI double plated Chris Hyatt, Lunde singled in Bess, then Grady finalized things with a two-run homer.
For Lander, Lewis, Lunde, Berry and Bess had three hits apiece, while Ramos and Grady added two each.
Francis Marion ended the game with seven hits.