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Braves give up two runs in the ninth; end NCAA run

By Nick Phillips, Editor

May 22, 2011

Braves rip Fayetteville State
Photo by Nick Phillips
UNCP head coach Paul O'Neil (No. 6) and assistant coaches Doug Simmons (No. 11) and Blake Newsome (No. 14) look on during NCAA Southeastern Regional play. The Braves ended the season witha school-record 44 wins in 2011.

Three outs away from a win that would advance them to a rematch against Mount Olive, the UNCP baseball team saw themselves blow a two-run lead that ended their season and allowed Francis Marion to move on after a 5-4 walk-off win late into the night May 21 in the NCAA Southeast Regional.

Junior J.J. Williams gave the Braves a one-run lead with his two-out RBI single in the seventh inning, but UNCP was unable to hang on in the ninth.

The Francis Marion ninth inning started with an infield single before a walk put two runners on with no outs. After a sacrifice bunt moved both runners up to second and third, the Braves intentionally walked the bases loaded to set up a force play at any base.

After a UNCP meeting on the mound, Braves pitcher Braxton Lewis sent a wild pitch to the backstop, allowing the tying run to scamper home from third base.

In stepped Francis Marion's Brooks Arnette, who lifted a fly ball to right field that allowed the runner from third base to score without a play after the UNCP throw sailed all the way to the screen.

"It was a good baseball game and a tough way to lose. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose - that's baseball. This one stings a little bit though," UNCP head coach Paul O'Neil said.

Offensively, senior Kenny Mickens drove in two runs as part of his 2-for-3 night, while junior Eitan Maoz also added two hits and an RBI.

Lewis picked a tough moment for his first loss of the season, as he gave up two runs on a hit and two walks in just 1-2/3 innings.

The loss ended a record-breaking season for the Braves, whose 44-12 record included a school-record wins and first-ever Peach Belt Conference Championship. UNCP also won a pair of games in this NCAA Southeastern Regional, their first-ever wins in their first trip to NCAA postseason play.

"It's been a great ride," Braves senior Jason Coker said after the game.

"Since the beginning, our goals were set at 40-plus wins, win a conference championship and make it to the postseason. We had a great year and I look forward to coming out and watching these guys play next year," Coker added.

"I couldn't be more happy or more happy with our kids – with what they accomplished this season and their attitude. This senior class is what has really done it for UNCP baseball. They have seen an awful lot of success in their career. They are the group that punched us through (to the NCAA postseason). Now, it's up to the kids that follow to continue what they started," O'Neil finished.

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