NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Belmont baseball team (23-10, 10-2) is out to its best start ever in Atlantic Sun Conference play, as the Bruins secured sole possession of first place in the league after completing their first ever series sweep against USC Upstate (21-11, 7-5) with a 7-1 home victory on Saturday.
"Coming into this weekend was really exciting," junior Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.) said following Saturday's win. "[USC Upstate] is a great team, and we knew we were going to have to step up. To get this sweep was huge for us, especially in continuing our momentum."
That momentum is currently working like a steam roller as Belmont recorded its seventh straight win, and the ninth in the team's last 10 contests in completing the sweep of the Spartans. Since earning the series finale victory over Auburn, the Bruins are a remarkable 15-3.
Akers has been a big part of the recent success, batting .421 with four doubles, two home runs and 11 runs scored over the course of the last 10 outings. The Belmont designated hitter extended his career-best hitting streak to 13 games with a two-for-four day at the plate on Saturday.
"It's a mentality thing for me," Akers said of his execution at the plate. "It's finding your approach, getting up there and relaxing, and finding a groove. I've just been up there trying to find ways to get on base to help the team win."
The Bruins' first run of the game, which tied the score at 1-1 in the bottom of the first, came off of an RBI single to left field by Akers. The junior drove in senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.), who reached base in Belmont's first at bat of the game for the third straight tilt.
Senior Dylan Craig (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) singled to center field before Akers drove in the first run, and came around to score with Akers on a double down the right field line by freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.). The three first-inning runs would prove to be enough to pull out the victory, as the Belmont pitching staff was phenomenal once again.
Sophomore James Buckelew (Lawrenceville, Ga.) allowed the one USC Upstate run in the first inning on a pair of singles and a sacrifice bunt, but went on to record five straight innings of shutout baseball, allowing just four more hits. The one run was the only earned score the Spartans managed all weekend.
When asked about how he and the team felt after the sweep Buckelew had just one word, "Excited." The left-hander went on to talk about his performance on the mound, saying "after that first inning, I just settled down and started playing my game. I felt good. I felt comfortable."
Buckelew earned his fifth win of the season, improving to a perfect 5-0, and dropped his ERA down to a stifling 1.70 on the year. Thanks to the long outings by junior Chase Brookshire (Chattanooga, Tenn.) and senior captain Matt Hamann (Northbrook, Ill.) on Friday, Buckelew was able to hand the ball over to an eager bullpen for the final three innings of the game.
Junior Josh Davis (Fayetteville, Ga.), freshman Scott Moses (Englewood, Tenn.), and freshman Austin Coley (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) allowed no runs on just one hit during the seventh, eighth, and ninth, respectively. Each reliever used less than 15 pitches, and there was not a single walk between them.
"It's been the story of our season thus far," Akers said about the Bruins' pitching. "It makes it more relaxing as a hitter to know that the guys that are pitching are going to go out and have good starts consistently. You know that if you can just manufacture some runs, you'll be in good shape."
The runs came pouring in for Belmont as the game went on. The Bruins scored two in the sixth, and one in each of the seventh and eight innings to pick up the 7-1 victory. It was Akers who started the rally in the sixth on an infield single to the second baseman.
After advancing to second on a perfectly executed sacrifice bunt by Beaty, Akers scored on one of junior captain Drew Turner's four base hits on the day. Turner then came around to score the second run of the frame on the first of junior Jared Breen's (Marietta, Ga.) two RBI doubles in the victory.
The Bruins' runs in the seventh and eighth came on a double to left field by sophomore Greg Brody (Dacula, Ga.), which drove in Mitchell, and Breen's second double. The Belmont shortstop drove in Turner on a shot down the left field line to score BU's final run of the game.
Belmont finished with seven runs on 13 hits and no errors. Buckelew improved 5-0 on the mound in the win. Turner went a perfect four-for-four with one RBI and two runs scored, while Akers, Breen, and Craig each tallied two hits in the victory.
USC Upstate totaled one run on seven hits and no errors. Brandon Lee fell to 4-3 on the season after allowing five runs on 10 hits. Luke Weber and Trey Richardson led the Spartans at the plate, each recording a two-for-four day.
The Belmont Bruins will play two games in the midweek, hosting Tennessee Tech on Tuesday and playing at Vanderbilt on Wednesday, before traveling to Mercer next weekend in a rematch of last year's Atlantic Sun Conference Championship game.