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Braves score late run to beat Catawba in NCAA Regional quarterfinals

By Nick Phillips, Editor

May 20, 2011

Braves rip Fayetteville State
Photo by Nick Phillips
UNCP pitcher Brian Willis reacts as he comes off the field against Catawba. Willis and the Braves beat Catawba 4-3 May 20.

A hard shot of the bat of UNCP senior Kenny Mickens in the eighth inning resulted in an error by the Catawba third baseman and scored junior Aaron Parnell, giving the No. 7 Braves a 4-3 win over No. 19 Catawba in the quarterfinals of the 2011 NCAA Southeast Regional on May 20.

The win pushed the Braves winning streak out to 11 games and advanced them to play 2nd-ranked Mount Olive on May 21.

"Catawba gave us everything we could handle and we were just fortunate that the ball bounced our way at the end," UNCP head coach Paul O'Neil said.

"I thought we threw the ball pretty well. I don't think Brian (Willis) had his best command tonight, but he is one of the main reasons we won this game tonight," Willis added.

Senior starting pitcher Brian Willis did not earn a decision for the Braves, despite a gutsy, 6-1/3 innings of work in which he allowed only three hits and two runs while only having his fastball working well.

Willis, who came into the 2011 season as the Braves closer, and said the "bulldog" mentality he learned as a closer helped him compete and "push through" against Catawba despite only having one good pitch.

“Obviously I didn’t have my best command. But I just tried to battle and keep the team in the game. We are just lucky we got out on top,” Willis said.

UNCP junior Braxton Lewis improved his record to 7-0 after coming out of the bullpen, but not before allowing an unearned run in the eighth inning.

The run ended Lewis' consecutive scoreless innings streak at 43-1/3 innings, which sits as the second-longest in NCAA Division II history behind only SIU Edwardsville pitcher Kyle Jones' 54 scoreless innings in 2006.

Offensively, senior Keith Whitman collected a 4-for-4 night at the plate to lead the Braves, while junior Eitan Maoz knocked in two RBI's on his only hit in a 1-for-3 hitting line.

UNCP scored its first run of the game on three-consecutive one-out singles in the top of the third inning, beginning with Whitman's RBI up the middle before Maoz pushed a single through the left side of the infield moments later scored two more Braves runs.

The three-run lead would stay the same until Catawba tied the game with three runs in the eighth inning, with the final run scoring on a wild pitch from Lewis.

UNCP had an answer, however, getting a runner in scoring position with two outs in the eighth before Mickens' hard shot got through the infield and allowed Parnell to score the eventual winning run.

 

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