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Diamond Braves capture PBC Title
By Nick Phillips
The UNCP baseball team tallied four straight wins over five days in Columbus, Ga., culminating with their first ever Peach Belt Conference Tournament championship on May 12 after beating Augusta State 2-1 in the Braves first trip to the tournament’s title game.
The 10th-ranked Braves have now won their last nine games and earned the PBC’s automatic bid to make their first-ever trip to NCAA postseason play.
"We came down here and took it out of their (NCAA selection committee) hands," UNCP head coach Paul O'Neil said after the Championship game.
"We pitched it well, swung it well and played pretty good defense all week," O’Neil added.
The Braves now wait for the announcement of their first round opponent in the NCAA Southeast Regional, as well as the site the Regional will take place from May 19 to 23. The entire 48-team field for the 2011 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship was unveiled on May 15.
Braves rally in opener
UNCP opened up the PBC Tournament with an 8-4 win over 15th-ranked Georgia College in the first round and opening game of the tournament.
The Braves tallied six runs in the eighth and ninth innings to erase a two-run deficit for the win.
Senior Keith Whitman homered and drove in two runs while scoring four times as part of a 2-for-4 day, while senior Jason Coker and juniors Aaron Parnell and J.J. Williams all added two-hit games as well, with Coker driving in the go-ahead run in the ninth inning for the Braves.
Junior Braxton Lewis earned his fifth win of the season after coming in and allowing only two hits over the final two innings of play.
Ninth inning heroics
The Braves again used late inning magic to push past Augusta State 6-2 in the second round of the PBC Tournament, as UNCP plated four runs in the ninth inning for the win.
Coker led the Braves with a three-hit performance, including his seventh home run of the year, while Williams and junior Josh Haley each added three-hit afternoons as well.
Lewis won his second game in as many days after striking out two batters in 1-2/3 innings of relief after starter Josh Bagley allowed six hits and two runs over the first 7-1/3 innings.
High scoring affair
UNCP scored four or more runs in four different innings as the Braves out-slugged 21st-ranked Armstrong Atlantic for a 20-14 win in the third round of the PBC Tournament.
The game went down in history as the highest scoring game in PBC Tournament history and featured 34 hits, six errors, 10 different pitchers and 407 pitches over 3 hours and 45 minutes, while the Braves’ 17 RBIs were tied for the second-most in tournament history but the most since the 1998 tournament.
Haley tallied a career-best 5-for-5 hitting performance while adding four RBIs and scoring four times. Haley’s perfect night at the plate matched the PBC Tournament single game record last achieved in 2006.
Senior Kenny Mickens added six RBIs of his own and was 2-for-3 with a grand slam in the first inning, while Coker was 3-for-5 and junior Brad Bridgeman added two hits as well.
UNCP senior Brad Isom earned his 10th win of the season despite giving up 10 hits and six runs in six innings of work. Isom’s 10 wins are the most for a Braves pitcher since Ron Norman’s 11 wins during the 1974 season.
Following an off day, the Braves picked up right where they left off in the PBC Championship game, again meeting up with Augusta State and taking a 2-1 win in their first title game appearance.
UNCP scored both of their runs in the bottom of the first inning and got a strong pitching performance from senior Brian Willis to get their second win over Augusta State in four days.
Willis, named to the all-tournament team, grabbed his seventh win of the season after striking out seven batters and allowing only six hits and, more importantly, one run in 6-1/3 innings of work.
Lewis finished off the game for his ninth save of the season, as the tournament MVP struck out four and allowed only three hits over the final 2-2/3 innings.
Offensively, the Braves got one hit each from Haley, Coker and junior Aaron Parnell, and also cashed in on its RBI opportunities from junor Eitan Maoz and senior Joe Magnum.
After Augusta State scored in the top of the first inning to take the lead, the Braves answered with a double by Coker before scoring on an Augusta State error to tie the score. Moments later with the bases loaded with Braves, Magnum drew the walk that brought home what turned out to be the winning run.
In the eighth inning, Augusta State had two runners in scoring position before Lewis ended the threat with a strike out to end the jam for UNCP. Lewis also worked out of a little trouble in the ninth, striking out the final batter of the game with two runners on base.