DELAND, Fla. – The top seeded Belmont baseball team (39-22) used three of its most experienced pitchers, and a five hit, four-RBI performance by Tournament MVP Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.) to defeat third seeded Kennesaw State (34-25) by a score of 10-4 and win the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship for the second straight season. The Bruins also earned the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament with the victory.
"All the people involved in this program hold a special place in my heart," Head Coach Dave Jarvis said after the emotional victory. "I'm so greatful that they've become a part of my life, and that I've had the opportunity to work with these people."
Junior all-conference member Chase Brookshire (Chattanooga, Tenn.), who started in the Bruins' tournament opening win over Stetson, took the mound on just two days rest to lead Belmont to the win. The lefty allowed just four runs on nine hits in a gutsy six innings to pick up the win.
The Bruins then went to the bullpen for the final three innings of play. The Belmont bullpen didn't allow a single run for the entire tournament, and that statistic did not change on Saturday. Senior Garrett Fanchier (Lebanon, Tenn.), who has appeared in more games than any other pitcher in Belmont history, pitched a no-hit seventh inning before handing the ball off once again.
Fifth-year senior captain Matt Hamann (Northbrook, Ill.) was then called on to bring the championship home for the Bruins. Making only his second relief appearance of the season, and doing it on one day rest after throwing 7.2 innings against the Owls on Thursday, the right-hander allowed just one hit and struck out two batters to pick up his first save of the season.
Akers was named Most Valuable Player of the tournament after going five-for-five with a double, a triple, and four runs batted in the final game of the championships. The Belmont first baseman came up big time after time for the Bruins this week, beginning with his walk-off single in the 15-inning opener against host Stetson.
"It couldn't have happened to a better kid," Jarvis said of Akers' performance and tournament honors. "He's a leader for us on the field. He's a leader for us off the field. The fact that we have so many kids like that is really what has separated us just a bit from our opponents this season."
Building on the momentum of their 13-4 win over Florida Gulf Coast earlier in the day, the Owls struck first in this one. Brookshire, working on only two days rest, allowed one run in each of the second and third innings. After a leadoff walk, a double to deep left field scored Kennesaw's first run. A double and an RBI single gave the Owls their third-inning run to take a 2-0 lead early.
The Bruins fought back quickly, though, scoring a pair of runs in the bottom half of the third to tie the game at 2-2. A walk, a hit by pitch, and a single to right center by senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.) loaded the bases for Belmont with one out. Freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.) drove in BU's first run of the game on a sacrifice fly to left, and Akers singled to center to drive in Turner and tie the game.
Belmont used a four-run fifth inning to take a 6-2 lead over the Owls. The Bruins batted around, tallying four straight hits to lead off the frame. Junior captain Drew Turner (Shelbyville, Tenn.), Mitchell, and Beaty all singled to give the Bruins a 3-2 lead.
Akers quickly added to the BU total, driving in a pair of runs with a double down the left field line. Following sacrifice bunt by freshman Alec Diamond (Kennesaw, Ga.), which advanced Akers to third, he came around to score on a single through the right side by junior Jared Breen (Marietta, Ga.) to give Belmont the four run lead.
The Owls countered with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth, as Kennesaw State finally got to Brookshire. Following two quick outs, the Belmont ace gave up four straight singles, but benefited from Aaron Dobbs being caught in a rundown to get out of the jam.
Belmont increased its lead back to three, at 7-4, with a couple of singles in the bottom of the sixth. Turner led off the frame with his specialty as of late, an infield single. The junior advanced to second when Mitchell laid down a sacrifice bunt to the first baseman. After a ground out placed Turner at third, the Belmont right fielder scored on yet another hit by Akers. This time it was an RBI single up the middle.
The Bruins put the proverbial nail in the coffin with another three runs in the eighth inning. Mitchell led off the frame with only the second home run of the entire tournament. The second baseman pulled one deep to right field on the second pitch he saw. The long ball bounced on top of the wall and over for his fifth of the season.
Following a triple by Akers and a walk from Diamond, sophomore William Dodd (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) drove a single down the right field line to score both base runners and give Belmont the 10-4 lead that ended up being the final score.
Three Belmont players were named to the All-Tournament Team following the championship victory. Mitchell, Turner, and Akers were honored, while the latter earned MVP accolades for his performance throughout the week.
The Bruins will move onto the NCAA Tournament for the second straight season, and will host a Watch Party for the Selection Show on Monday. The event, held at SAM's Sports Grill in Hillsboro Village, will be open to the public. Family, friends, and fans are encouraged to join the team at 10:30 a.m. in preparation of the 11:00 a.m. CT show.
Fans can also pick up the official 2012 Belmont Baseball Atlantic Sun Champion Shirt at the Belmont Athletics online team store. Return to BelmontBruins.com or follow @BelmontBaseball on Twitter for updates on the Bruins leading up to and in the NCAA Tournament.