GREENWOOD – Carson Jones, Conner Davis, Brice Kirven and Alex Conaway homered as the Lander Bearcats bounced back from an early 6-0 deficit, staying alive for the final Peach Belt Conference Tournament berth with a 14-6 victory over the University of North Georgia Friday evening at Dolny Stadium.
Lander (15-31 overall and 8-20 in the PBC) needs to win one of the last two games of the North Georgia series to clinch the eighth and final post-season tournament spot.
Francis Marion has completed its PBC schedule finishing 9-21 while currently holding the eighth spot, but the Bearcats own the tie-breaker due to sweeping the Patriots March 23-25 in Greenwood.
Lander and the Nighthawks meet again Saturday and Sunday at 1 o'clock at Dolny Stadium. If North Georgia wins both games, Francis Marion clinches the eighth spot.
"Super proud of the guys," said head coach Jason Burke. "When you get down 6-0 and your facing an elimination series, you just want your guys to fight and they did that the entire time."
With Friday's loss, the Nighthawks fell to 28-17 overall and 15-10 in the Peach Belt.
North Georgia got off to a big start as the PBC's top slugger Andres Perez hit his 18th and 19th homers of the season in his first two at-bats, staking the visitors to a 6-0 lead. The 6-foot-7 Perez, a sophomore catcher, is the son of former Atlanta Braves catcher Eddie Perez.
Perez blasted three-run homers in each of the first two innings, both times scoring Joshua Profit and Chase Sudduth. In the top of the first, Profit walked, Sudduth reached on an error and Perez homered to left. In the second, Profit doubled, Sudduth walked and Perez launched another long homer to left.
But Bearcats starting pitcher Alex Moore settled down after the two home runs, allowing his team back into the game. Lander began chipping away at its 6-0 deficit, scoring twice in the third and fourth innings before taking the lead for good with four in the fifth.
Davis hit a leadoff single in the third and Kirven followed with the first homer of his Bearcats career, a two-run shot well over the wall in left.
Lander cut it to 6-4 in the fourth when Nathan Schreckengost doubled and scored on Conaway's single. Conaway advanced to second on the throw home and scored on Kirven's single to center.
The Bearcats took their first lead in the fifth with four two-out runs. Zack Moore hit a two-out single and advanced to third on a single by Schreckengost. After the Nighthawks made a mound visit, Jones hit the next pitch over the left-field wall for a three-run homer and a 7-6 Lander lead. It was his team-leading 13th homer of the season. Conaway hit the next pitch also over the left field wall for his second home run of the season and an 8-6 Bearcats lead.
Lander added a run in the sixth on the fourth RBI of the night for Jones. Bo Richey singled, Colton Yeager walked and they pulled off a double steal. Schreckengost was hit by a pitch to load the bases and Jones grounded the ball into the hole between third and short for a run-scoring infield single.
Bearcats reliever Ryan Troutman relieved Moore with two on and two out in the top of the seventh and walked the first batter he faced, loading the bases. But he escaped the jam by retiring Steven Tomlinson on a ground out.
Lander added a pair of runs in the bottom of the seventh after Kirven singled and advanced to second when Richey reached on an error by the pitcher on a bunt. Mike Fitschen hit an RBI single and Yeager added a sacrifice fly.
Davis put an exclamation point on the victory with a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth, upping the Bearcat lead to 14-6. Schreckengost singled and Conaway walked ahead of Davis's blast to left, the senior's first homer of the season.
Despite falling behind 6-0, Lander starting pitcher Moore rallied to get credit for the victory. Moore (2-4) worked 6.2 innings, allowing six runs on five hits and five walks while striking out eight. Troutman and Robbie Hoyt finished up on the mound for the Bearcats. Hoyt tossed two scoreless innings.
Nighthawks starting pitcher Cade Heil (6-6) took the loss.
Leading hitters for Lander were Kirven, 3-for-5 with a homer, two runs scored and three RBI; Schreckengost, 3-for-4 with three runs; Jones, 2-for-5 with a homer and four RBI; Conaway, 2-for-4 with a homer, two runs and two RBI; Davis, 2-for-4 with a homer, two runs and three RBI; and Richey, 2-for-4 with two runs scored.
Perez paced North Georgia, going 3-for-5 with two homers and six RBI. Jake Arnold went 2-for-4 while Profit, Perez and Sudduth scored three runs apiece.