NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Belmont baseball team (33-21, 15-10) made its conference tournament hopes for 2012 a greater possibility after defeating cross-town rival Lipscomb (25-28, 14-11) by a score of 2-1 in the first contest of a three-game series on Thursday evening at Rose Park. It marked a program-record 33rd regular season victory for BU.
The rivalry between Belmont and Lipscomb has been well documented over the course of history, but this weekend's annual Battle of the Boulevard has been given even greater consequence, as the two teams came into the final regular season series tied for third place in the Atlantic Sun Conference standings.
Thanks to winning Thursday night's series opener, BU can now clinch a berth into the A-Sun Tournament with either league-leading USC Upstate defeating Mercer, or Stetson topping Florida Gulf Coast in game one of their respective series.
Belmont is in familiar territory, as the Bruins had to win two out of three games at Stetson in the final series of the season to make the 2011 league championships. Like so many victories for BU this season, Belmont benefited from outstanding play on the mound.
Junior Chase Brookshire won his career-best seventh game of the season, allowing just four hits and one unearned run in eight innings of action. The left-hander, lowering his ERA to 2.22 on the season, struck out five batters and walked just one to lead the Bruins to the victory.
"It's easy to get excited about this weekend," Brookshire said following the game. "They're our cross-town rival, and a lot was on the line, so it wasn't hard to get motivated to come out and pitch well." Pitch well, Brookshire did, earning his 19th career victory on the mound, but it would have all gone for naught if the Belmont offense didn't come through when it needed to.
The Bruins scored one run in the third, and one run in the fifth, to give Brookshire the minimal space he needed to garner the win. Both scoring rallies featured the same three players, senior Dylan Craig (Signal Mountain, Tenn.), junior captain Drew Turner (Shelbyville, Tenn.), and freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.).
Craig led off the third with a walk, and advanced to second on a bunt single by Turner. The center fielder advanced to third on a Lipscomb double play, but finally came around to score the first run of the game on a single through the right side by Beaty.
It was Craig who ignited the rally again in the fifth, working another walk off of Bison starter Connor Sinclair. The senior again made it to second on a Turner single, this time to left center field. Senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.) then got in on the action, singling to center to load the bases.
He has done it all season, and Beaty did it once again in the fifth, driving in the run that proved to be the game-winner for Belmont. The freshman's sacrifice fly scored Craig, and his team-leading RBI total increased to 38 on the season.
"We are fighting to get into the tournament," Beaty said of the environment Thursday night, "but even without that added tension this would have been a huge game because this rivalry is so intense."
With a 2-1 lead, after Lipscomb recorded its first run of the game on two singles and an error in the seventh, Belmont sent freshman Scott Moses (Englewood, Tenn.) to the mound to close out the game in the ninth. Moses, who played the first eight innings of the game at shortstop, made quick work of the Bisons, allowing just one single and striking out the final two batters of the game.
Belmont finished with two runs on nine hits and one error. Brookshire improved to 7-3 on the season after allowing one unearned run on four hits in eight innings. Moses picked up his second save of the season after pitching a near perfect ninth. Turner and Mitchell both tallied two-hit games at the plate, while Beaty drove in a pair of runs and Craig scored two.
Lipscomb totaled one run on five hits and no errors. Sinclair fell to 6-4 on the season after allowing two runs on seven hits and walking four in five innings on the mound. Zach Lowery led the Bisons at the plate with a two-for-four day and scoring the lone Lipscomb run.
"Any time we play Lipscomb it is going to be an extremely competitive environment," Head Coach Dave Jarvis said after the win. "We fight each other tooth and nail during the course of the competition, and after it's over we shake hands. I'm very proud of that aspect of this rivalry."
Belmont and Lipscomb will get back at it on Friday, squaring off at 5:00 p.m. at Rose Park. The Bruins are scheduled to start senior captain Matt Hamann (Northbrook, Ill.), while Lipscomb's starting pitcher is to be announced.
UPDATE: Belmont clinched a spot in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament with the win over Lipscomb. The worst case scenario would be if Belmont lost the final two games against the Bisons, Kennesaw won at least one more against ETSU, and FGCU and Mercer end up sweeping their respective series.
If that is the case, Belmont would be in a four-way tie with FGCU, Mercer, and Stetson, at 15-12. Belmont would secure a spot due to conference tie-breaker rules with a 4-5 record against the other three teams within the tie. FGCU and Mercer would also advance, and Stetson would be eliminated.
With at least two games remaining in each conference series, Belmont can still end up seeded anywhere from number one to number six in the A-Sun Tournament. The Bruins are currently only one and a half games behind USC Upstate for first place in the league.