NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Belmont baseball team (34-21, 16-10) came into the final series of the regular season in danger of missing the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament. After Friday night's 5-0 victory over rival Lipscomb (25-29, 14-12), and two straight losses by USC Upstate, the Bruins have a chance to finish the season as league champions on Saturday.
A large dose of the credit for Friday's series clinching victory over the Bisons should be sent the way of senior captain Matt Hamann (Northbrook, Ill.). The Belmont starter threw his fifth complete game of the season, but his first of the shutout variety, not allowing a single Lipscomb run, and only four hits in the victory. Hamann struck out a career best 10 batters, while walking only three.
"It all begins and ends with Matt Hamann's performance," Head Coach Dave Jarvis said. "He put the team on his back and gave the rest of the squad the slack needed to grind out a couple of runs through the first seven innings of the game. You really have to give him a tremendous amount of credit for that outing."
Following his second career complete game shutout Hamann talked about how he got it done, saying "I felt in command from pitch one to the final one. It got a little chippy there for a bit, but [Assistant Head] Coach [Matt] Barnett told me to block all of that out and pitch my game, and that's what I did."
As you would expect from any game between these two heated rivals, the contest did begin to tense up in the seventh inning as Hamann mentioned. The crowd became more and more involved, and after being warned by the umpire earlier in the frame, Lipscomb Head Coach Jeff Forehand was ejected from the game.
The Belmont pitcher, along with the rest of the team, gathered himself and went back out to pitch the eighth inning. Like many before it, the top half of the eighth went by quickly for Hamann. The senior allowed one of his three walks, but retired the other three batters with a ground out, a fly out, and a strike out.
Seizing the moment, freshman Matt Beaty (Dresden, Tenn.) extended the Bruin lead to 3-0 with his second solo home run of the game to start a three-run eighth inning rally. The Belmont third baseman, who recorded a number of outstanding defensive plays throughout Friday's game, also gave BU a 2-0 lead when he hit a towering shot over the right field wall on the first pitch of the sixth inning.
The excitement for the Bruins only increased from there as junior Judah Akers (Cookeville, Tenn.) was apparently thrown at on the very next pitch. Both benches were warned after the pitch came dangerously close to connecting with Akers' helmet. Three pitches later, the junior sent a home run over the fence in left center field to give Belmont back to back home runs.
"Anytime we play Lipscomb it's going to be emotional, even if we were playing for nothing at all," Akers said. "With all that was on the line this weekend, it just made it all that much more exciting. It's why we love playing baseball."
Belmont wasn't finished quite yet, though. After Lipscomb reliever Tyler Burstrom got freshman Alec Diamond (Kennesaw, Ga.) to pop up to the shortstop, senior Phillip Parsley (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) increased the Bruin home run total to three in the eighth inning, and four overall, with a towering shot over the Bruins' bullpen outside the left field fence.
The 5-0 lead was more than enough to give Belmont the win, as Hamann came on to finish the game in the ninth, retiring the side for the senior's fourth win of the season. The right-hander improved to 4-5 after the four-hit complete game shutout. It marked the 22 win of his career, tying Hamann for third most all-time in Belmont history.
The Bruins finished with five runs on six hits and no errors. Beaty and Akers each recorded two hits and drove in two runs. It was Beaty's first multiple home run game of the season. Akers also drove in Belmont's first run of the game on a single to right center field in the first. Senior captain Zac Mitchell (Cordova, Tenn.) scored that run, which put him sixth all-time in a single season at Belmont with 56 runs scored in 2012.
Lipscomb was shutout by Hamann and the Bruins, totaled just four hits, and committed two errors. Starter Josh Cotham fell to 5-5 on the season after allowing two runs on three hits, while striking out five and walking four. Four Bisons tallied singles to lead the team at the plate.
The two teams will square off in the final game of the regular season on Saturday at 1:00 p.m. If the Bruins win, and Mercer defeats USC Upstate to complete the sweep, Belmont would win its first ever Atlantic Sun Conference regular season crown. Things are still very tight at the top of the league standings, as Belmont could also still finish as low as the fourth seed with a loss on Saturday. The stakes, and the tensions, are high as the season comes to a close.