JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. – The Belmont baseball team (13-8, 2-1) defeated ETSU (10-8, 1-2) by a score of 4-3 to win the first Atlantic Sun Conference series of the season. Junior Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.) went two-for-three with the game-winning RBI triple to lead the Bruins at the plate.
With the game tied at 3-3 since the top of the fifth inning, Belmont took its penultimate opportunity to change the outcome of the contest before extra innings, and scored the game-winning run in the top of the eighth.
ETSU's undefeated starting pitcher John Long came in for his eighth inning of work on the mound, and got Belmont's first two batters to pop out and strike out. Sophomore Greg Brody (Dacula, Ga.) then worked a full count before getting hit by a pitch for his team-leading ninth time this season.
After stealing second base, Brody scored the game-winning run on the triple by Akers. The Belmont designated hitter's first triple of the season caromed off the center field wall.
The Bruins went to their standard setup-closer combination of freshman Scott Moses (Englewood, Tenn.) and senior Garrett Fanchier (Lebanon, Tenn.) to finish up the game in the eighth and ninth innings, respectively. Each allowed one hit and struck out one batter to give Belmont the 4-3 win in Johnson City.
As solid as the back of the bullpen was on Sunday, it may have been the stellar four innings of shutout baseball in relief by freshman Austin Coley (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) that led BU to the series clinching victory. Coley pitched the fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh innings, allowing only three hits, walking one, and striking out four Bucs, allowing the Bruins to tie the game at 3-3 in the fifth.
It looked like the series finale might have been reminiscent of Friday's opener when Belmont jumped on Long for two runs in the top of the first. Senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.) singled through the infield to lead off, stole second, and advanced to third on a ground out.
Mitchell then scored on an RBI single to left field by Brody to give Belmont the early lead. Akers gave the Bruins the 2-0 advantage when he recorded his team-best ninth double of the season, driving in Brody with a drive down the left field line.
The Buccaneers countered though, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom half of the first. Clinton Freeman connected on a two out single through the infield, and Dylan Pratt hit a home run to left-center, tying the game at 2-2. After Belmont starter sophomore James Buckelew (Lawrencville, Ga.) gave up another ETSU run in the third on a hit by pitch and a single, he was relieved by Coley.
It was once again Mitchell getting things started for the Bruins before they tied the game in the fifth. He doubled down the right field line on the first pitch of the inning. Junior Jared Breen (Marietta, Ga.) sacrificed Mitchell to third, and a sacrifice fly by senior Dylan Craig (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) drove in the tying run.
The rest was history, as the Belmont bullpen came in for six shutout innings, and Akers drove in the winning run in the eighth. Coley improved to 2-0 on the season, while Fanchier recorded his sixth save of the year.
The Bruins totaled four runs on seven hits and no errors, while ETSU finished with three runs on eight hits and two errors. Akers went two-for-three with a double, a triple, and two runs batted in to lead Belmont at the plate. Pratt went two-for-four with the two-run homer to lead the Bucs. Long fell to 4-1 after allowing four runs on six hits in eight innings.
Belmont will stay on the road, playing non-conference games at Western Kentucky and Murray State this week, before returning home to host A-Sun preseason favorite Stetson this weekend.