DELAND, Fla. – It took tying an Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament record of 15 innings to decide the first round game, but eventually the top seeded Belmont baseball team (36-21) defeated host Stetson (34-22) by a score of 4-3 in the bottom of the 15th to advance in the league championship on Wednesday night.
The Bruins surrendered two runs to the Hatters in the top of the second inning, but luckily for Belmont, it could have been worse. Starting pitcher Chase Brookshire (Chattanooga, Tenn.) hit two batters in the frame, equaling his total number of hit batters during the entire regular season.
After hitting the leadoff batter, Brookshire allowed the lone hit of the inning on a single through the infield by James Rasmussen. A throwing error by junior Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.) attempting to get the lead runner out at third on a sacrifice bunt attempt allowed Stetson to score the first run of the game.
The second hit by pitch then loaded the bases for the Hatters, and a line drive sacrifice fly to right field drove gave Stetson the 2-0 lead early in the contest. Junior captain Drew Turner (Shelbyville, Tenn.) made an unbelievable diving catch in right to save the Bruins from even more damage.
Both Brookshire and Stetson starter Kurt Schluter cruised for the next six half innings, as the two aces combined to retire 19 straight batters at one point during the stretch. Belmont finally got to the Hatter right-hander, scoring one run in the fifth, and another in the sixth to tie the game at 2-2.
In the fifth it was freshman Alec Diamond (Kennesaw, Ga.) starting things off with a walk. The designated hitter advanced to second on a wild pitch by Schluter, and came around to score on a single by fellow freshman Jamie Ritchie (Buford, Ga.) on a single over the head of Stetson first baseman Mitchel Brennan.
Senior Dylan Craig (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) was the one to start the rally in the sixth, leading off with a single through the left side. An error by Schluter on a pickoff attempt at first allowed Craig to advance to second base, before getting to third on a nicely laid down sacrifice bunt by Turner. Senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.), who also singled in the first, doubled down the right field line to make it 2-2 heading into the seventh.
Following an empty seventh inning, Stetson regained the lead with a trio of singles in the top of the eighth. Freshman Scott Moses (Englewood, Ten.) relieved Brookshire and allowed the final single, which gave the Hatters a 3-2 lead.
The Bruins countered quickly though, as Stetson closer Robbie Powell recorded just his second blown save of the season. The right-hander came into the tournament ranked third in the nation with 18 saves on the year. Akers led off the frame with a single to right field, and advanced to second when Diamond reached first on an error.
A strikeout and a walk later and the bases were loaded with Bruins. Junior Jared Breen (Marietta, Ga.), who made a number of sensational defensive plays in his first start since injuring his hand on April 10, came to bat with an opportunity to keep BU in the game at the plate. The junior stepped up to the challenge, hitting a long fly ball to center field to drive in the game-tying run with a sacrifice fly.
Including the ninth inning, a trio of Bruin relievers recorded seven straight shutout innings, while walking no Hatters to help lead Belmont to the victory. After Brookshire gave up only two earned runs on four hits in the first 7.2 innings of the game, Moses allowed three hits and struck out two in 2.1 innings. Freshman Austin Coley (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) pitched the next three innings, allowing just two hits, before handing the ball to junior Josh Davis (Fayetteville, Ga.) for the final two frames.
The final Belmont pitcher picked up the win after allowing only two runs to improve to 7-1 on the season. Davis is now 14-4 in his career – the second best winning percentage in Belmont history – after being the beneficiary of the Bruins' fourth and final run in the 15th.
Following the blown save in the ninth, Powell returned to pitch a total of six innings of relief for the Hatters. The Bruins finally got to him again in the 15th when Turner led off the frame with a single up the middle. Mitchell continued the rally by reaching first on an error by Powell on a throw to first. Turner advanced to third and Mitchell ended up at second on the play.
Freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.) was intentionally walked to load the bases, and create a force out at every base for Stetson. The Hatters brought in an extra infielder in order to protect the tie, but it wasn't enough to stop Belmont on this night. Akers came to bat and found one of the few holes in the Stetson infield to drive in Turner for the game-winning run.
Belmont played more innings than ever before in the program's NCAA era, and the Bruins came away victorious on four runs, 10 hits, and two errors. Akers tallied three hits, while Turner, Mitchell, and Ritchie each recorded two in the win.
Stetson totaled three runs on 11 hits and three errors. Powell fell to 1-1 on the season after allowing two unearned runs on four hits in six innings of relief. Robert Crews, Ben Carhart, and Spencer Theisen each had two-hit games for the Hatters.
The Bruins move on to play Kennesaw State in the second round of the tournament on Thursday at 2:00 p.m. CT. The Owls lost their first round match up to Florida Gulf Coast by a score of 12-4 earlier on Wednesday. Stetson will play USC Upstate at 10:00 a.m. CT on Thursday morning, giving the team less than an 11 hour turnaround between games.