Bearcats slide past Crusaders in NCAA regional, 11-4

Lander's Mason Dodd slides safely into second base during the Bearcats' 11-4 win over Belmont Abbey Saturday in the Southeast Regional Tournament. (Photo by Bob Stoner)
Lander's Mason Dodd slides safely into second base during the Bearcats' 11-4 win over Belmont Abbey Saturday in the Southeast Regional Tournament. (Photo by Bob Stoner)

COLUMBUS, Ga. - Thomas Berry became Lander's all-time, career home run record holder, Colby Lusignan smashed a timely grand slam, and 6-foot, 9-inch Sam Linn earned his fifth victory of the season Saturday afternoon to lead the No. 13-ranked and second-seeded Lander baseball team to an 11-4 victory over No. 15 and third-seeded Belmont Abbey in the second round of the NCAA Division II Southeast Region Tournament hosted by Columbus State University at Burger King Stadium.

The Bearcats, who improve to 40-14, advance to play No. 19-ranked and fourth-seeded USC Aiken at noon Sunday. Belmont Abbey drops to 39-15-1 and faces fifth-seeded Tusculum in Saturday's late game. Lander and USCA are the only two remaining unbeaten teams in the double-elimination tournament.

The championship game is set for noon Monday, with the winner joining seven other regional champions in the NCAA Division II College World Series, May 28-June 4, in Cary, N.C.

Lander's Linn (5-2) picked up the win on the mound after striking out nine, walking one and allowing one earned run on five hits in eight innings.

The Crusaders' Tyler Burns (7-4) suffered the loss, striking out four, walking five and allowing four earned runs on five hits in 5.1 innings of action.

The Bearcats jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the second inning after Taylor Kellner scored on an error and Matt White's sacrifice fly plated Alex Conaway.

But Belmont Abbey trimmed the Bearcat advantage to 2-1 in the fifth on Kevin Elefante's RBI single.

After Conaway scored on a fielder's choice in the sixth, Lusignan's grand slam -- his 13th homer of the season -- stretched the Bearcat lead to 7-1.

Lander added four more runs in the eighth to make is 11-1 after Lusignan drove in Jones, Berry's record-breaking, two-run homer plated Lusignan, and Mangum added a solo shot of his own. With 29 career homers, the senior designated hitter Berry snapped the mark he shared with Jason Crider and Connor Lewis. Mangum's homer was his 11th of the year.

The Crusaders cut the margin to 11-4 in the ninth on Elefante's base-clearing double.

For Lander, Conaway batted 3-for-4, Lusignan 2-for-4 with five RBI, and Mangum 2-for-5.

For Belmont Abbey, Nick Nunziato and Elefante had two hits apiece.