FLORENCE, S.C. – The sixth-ranked Lander Bearcats lost to No. 5 Columbus State 9-4 in Sunday afternoon's Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship game at Francis Marion University's Sparrow Stadium and now await their NCAA Tournament fate tonight.
Lander fell to 38-14 and will advance to the NCAA Southeast Regional to be played this week at a site to be determined.
With the win, the Cougars improved to 42-12. Lander and PBC regular season and now tournament champion Columbus State were considered the two likeliest schools to host the Southeast Regional.
The NCAA Division II Tournament schedule will be announced tonight at 10 p.m.
The top-seeded Cougars built a 6-1 lead and were able to hold off second-seeded Lander on a mild, beautiful afternoon at Francis Marion.
Columbus State took a 2-0 lead in the top of the first on four consecutive two-out hits. Mike McClellan, Christian Miller and Blake Edwards singled to load the bases, and Matt Nettles hit a two-run double.
Lander threatened in the bottom of the first when Matt White was hit by a pitch and Zach Daly hit a towering fly ball to right center. But Cougars center fielder Tyler Fichter raced back, reached over the fence and took a two-run homer away from Daly.
Miller upped Columbus's lead to 3-0 in the top of the third with a solo home run over the fence in right center, his eighth hit and second homer of the tournament.
The Bearcats pulled within 3-1 in the bottom of the third when White singled, moved to second on a wild pitch, and scored on Daly's single through the middle.
The Cougars increased their lead to 6-1 in the top of the fourth, chasing Lander starting pitcher Colton Rogers. Justin Evans singled, Jackson Oliver was hit by a pitch, then Ryan Ihle greeted Bearcats reliever Robbie Hoyt with a two-run double into the left-field corner. Miller added a run-scoring single.
Columbus added a run in the top of the sixth when Fichter reached on an error, stopped at third on Oliver's double, and scored on Miller's ground out to make it 7-3.
The Cougars scored twice more in the top of the eighth for a 9-3 lead. Oliver singled and scored on Ihle's double down the right-field line, and Edwards added a run-scoring double down the left-field line.
Rogers (7-2) was the losing pitcher for Lander allowing five runs on seven hits in 4.1 innings, striking out three and walking none. Hoyt, Andrew Reardon and Brandon White pitched the rest of the way.
Brandon Koehler (10-1) beat the Bearcats for the second time this season. He allowed three runs on five hits in seven innings, striking out five and walking two. Former Lander outfielder Juan Montana (2012) tossed 1.1 innings of relief while Robert Hayes recorded the final two outs.
Leading hitters for Columbus were Miller, 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs scored and three RBI; Edwards, 3-for-5 with an RBI; Ihle, 2-for-5 with two runs scored and three RBI; and Oliver, 2-for-5 with two runs scored.
White was Lander's leading hitter, going 2-for-4 with an RBI. Conaway was 1-for-4 with two RBI.