DELAND, Fla. – The Belmont baseball team (38-22) scored two runs in the bottom of the seventh to top Florida Gulf Coast (26-30) by a score of 6-4 to advance to the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship on Saturday at 3:30 p.m. CT. The Bruins, defending their 2011 Championship, will take on the winner of FGCU and Kennesaw State's 12:00 p.m. CT contest.
"It was a testament to their character and their hard work," Head Coach Dave Jarvis said of the team's win Friday night. "I think it was just an outstanding performance by these kids. Every time that our backs have been against the wall, when we were in a must win situation, they have responded in a positive manner. That's exactly what we witnessed here again today."
The Eagles struck first, taking advantage of a leadoff error by the Bruins. FGCU's Ryan Gebhart followed up with a single to center, and Brandon Bednar recorded a sacrifice fly to score the first run of the ball game in the top of the third.
The Bruins countered fairly quickly, scoring two in the bottom of the fourth to take the lead over FGCU. Senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.) led off the frame with a single up the middle, and advanced to second on a single to right by junior Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.).
Freshman Alec Diamond (Kennesaw, Ga.), who has come up big a number of times this week, slapped a single to center field, driving in Mitchell to tie the game at 1-1. After junior Jared Breen (Marietta, Ga.) was hit by a pitch, senior Phillip Parsley (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) gave Belmont a 2-1 lead with a sacrifice fly to right center field.
BU continued the hot offense an inning later, tallying another two runs to take a 4-1 lead over the Eagles. Senior Dylan Craig (Signal Mountain, Tenn.) led off the frame with a walk, before Mitchell was hit by a pitch for a school record 29th time this season. Akers and Diamond came through again, recording back to back RBI singles to add to the Belmont lead.
FGCU was finally able to string a number of quality at bats together against Belmont starter Dan Ludwig (Naperville, Ill.), tying the game at 4-4 in the sixth. The Eagles sandwiched a double and a two-run triple around a pair of singles to even things up in DeLand.
The back and forth action ended with Belmont taking its second lead of the game, scoring two runs in the bottom of the seventh to make it 6-4 in favor of the Bruins. Like in the fourth, Mitchell led off with a single to get things started. Freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.) was hit by a pitch, and then Diamond walked to load the bases.
Breen, who was out for much of the season with an injured hand, came up with one out, the bases loaded, and a chance to play the hero. On this night in Florida, he did. The shortstop ripped a double down the left field line to drive in two runs and give Belmont a 6-4 lead.
"I couldn't be happier for Jared," Coach Jarvis said of his shortstop's big hit. "He's definitely one of our team leaders. He's a guy that has battled back through a whole lot of adversity this year, and to get his bat back is a huge key for us."
It wasn't over yet, though. Belmont had to finish out the final two innings, and thanks to another solid overall pitching performance, the Bruins did just that. Ludwig, who gave up only one run on two hits through the first five innings, was relieved by junior Josh Davis (Fayetteville, Ga.) in the top of the seventh.
Davis and freshman Scott Moses (Englewood, Tenn.) combined for three innings of one-hit shutout baseball to close out the contest. The former allowed one hit and struck out one during the seventh and eighth, while the latter allowed no hits and struck out two to pick up his third save of the year.
Belmont finished with six runs on 11 hits and two errors. Davis earned the win, improving to 8-1 on the season, and 15-4 in his career. The right-hander is now 15-4 in his career, the second best winning percentage in Belmont history.
Akers led the Bruins with three hits on the night, driving in one run, and scoring one. Mitchell and Diamond each tallied two hits, while the former scored three runs, his 61st, 62nd, and 63rd of the season. The second baseman is now tied for the second most in a single season at Belmont.
FGCU totaled four runs on eight hits and one error. Harrison Cooney fell to 4-3 on the season after allowing two runs on three hits in 1.1 innings. Sean Dwyer led the Eagles with two hits in the loss.
Both teams will now continue on to Championship Saturday. FGCU will play Kennesaw State in an elimination game at 12:00 p.m. CT, and the winner will move on to play Belmont, which tied a program record with its 38th win of the season on Friday, in the championship at 3:30 p.m. CT. Both games will be available on ESPN3.com and the Bruin Sports Network.
"It was a tough road," Breen said of the team's route to Championship Saturday. "We didn't make it as easy as we would have liked, but tonight was big. We're just going to try to feed off of the momentum we have now. We started to swing the bats well today, and we'll look forward to whoever we play tomorrow."