DELAND, Fla. – The Belmont baseball team (37-22) tacked on runs early to eliminate Mercer (38-21) from the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament for the second straight year on Friday in DeLand, Fla. The Bruins won by a score of 10-3 to advance to take on still undefeated Florida Gulf Coast Friday night at 6:00 p.m. CT.
"The bottom line is that it is an opportunity to continue playing," Head Coach Dave Jarvis said following the victory. "It's an opportunity to extend our life in this tournament. If we win again tonight, we move on to tomorrow. That's the plan right now."
The Bruins were able to record a multitude of singles, and benefited from a number Mercer miscues early on, to take an 8-0 lead after four innings of play. Belmont scored two runs in the second, three in the third, and tallied three more in the fourth to take a commanding lead over the Bears.
Junior Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.) and freshman Alec Diamond (Kennesaw, Ga.) led off the second with a pair of singles. The two were advanced to second and third base on a sacrifice bunt by junior Jared Breen (Marietta, Ga.), and both scored on a couple of mistakes by Mercer starting pitcher Brandon Barker and catcher David Reid-Foley. Akers scored on a passed ball for the first run of the game, and Diamond made it 2-0 on a wild pitch.
In the third it was junior captain Drew Turner (Shelbyville, Tenn.) starting things off, reaching first on an error by the first baseman. Senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.) singled to right field, and freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.) singled to left, which drove in Turner. Mitchell scored on another wild pitch by Barker, and Diamond ended the rally with an RBI single to left, giving the Bruins a 5-0 lead.
Unlike Thursday's loss to Kennesaw State, Belmont was able to take advantage of the Mercer mistakes on Friday. After a walk for freshman Jamie Ritchie (Buford, Ga.) to lead off the fourth, senior Dylan Craig (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) reached on an error attempting to sacrifice bunt. Turner then successfully laid down a sac bunt, before Ritchie scored on a balk by reliever Eric Nyquist.
Mercer went to another reliever, this time in left-hander Grant Papelian, but Mitchell handled the new like the old, driving in Craig on a single to left field. The Belmont second baseman stole second base, and then advanced to third on a fly out by Beaty. He finally scored on another error by the Bears, giving the Bruins an 8-0 lead less than half way through the contest.
Facing an uphill battle, the Bears didn't give up. Mercer scored one run in the fifth and two in the sixth to cut the Belmont lead to 8-1. After pitching four nearly untouchable innings, sophomore starter James Buckelew (Lawrenceville, Ga.) finally allowed the Bears to score after two walks and a single in the fifth. A ground out double play essentially got the left-hander out of the jam, but one run did score on the play.
Buckelew walked the first two batters of the sixth, before freshman Austin Coley (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) came in for his second appearance of the tournament. The right-hander allowed a double to CJ Reed, which scored a run, and a ground out to Chesny Young drove in the final Mercer run of the game.
Belmont added two runs in the sixth and eighth to take the 10-3 lead that ended up as the final. Turner singled to left field, and Beaty tacked on a deep double over the right-fielder's head to drive in the ninth run, while singles by Craig and Mitchell gave Belmont the final run of the contest.
Coley returned to the mound, pitching the final four innings of the contest, and picking up his first save of the season. The right-hander allowed just three hits, struck out three batters, and kept the Bruins from using another reliever Friday morning.
"I just found a way to get the job done, and I'm glad we got the win," Coley said after the game. The freshman went on to compliment his teammates for the offensive cushion. "Eight runs are all a pitcher can ask for. That's huge for us, and hopefully we can come back and do it again tonight."
The Bruins finished with 10 runs on 12 hits and no errors. Buckelew improved to 7-1 on the season, after allowing just three runs on five hits. Coley picked up the save in four innings of shutout baseball. Mitchell led Belmont at the plate with three hits, two runs scored and two runs batted in.
"We had a lot of enthusiasm in the dugout," Mitchell said of the team's game against Mercer. "I've felt good all week, but today I was able to put some things together. Luckily there were some men on base, so I was able to drive them in."
Mercer totaled three runs on eight hits and three errors. Barker fell to 5-5 on the season after allowing five runs, three of which were earned, on five hits. Derrick Workman and Reed led the Bears with two hits in the loss.
Belmont now advances to play Florida Gulf Coast at 6:00 p.m. CT on Friday. If the Bruins can win that game, they would move onto Saturday's Championship. BU would take on one of three teams that the Bruins had already competed with this week; FGCU, Stetson, or Kennesaw State.