Visiting Tusculum College pushed across a pair of runs in the top of the 10th inning and rode the solid relief pitching of Clark Ayers to a 6-4 win over Lee on a cold Tuesday evening at Olympic Field.
The two NCAA Division II clubs battled back and forth through the first six innings. The Flames jumped on top 2-0 in the second inning on a single by Zac Hawkins, a double by Blake Ray and a two-RBI single hit by Andres Nelo.
The Pioneers wasted no time in grabbing their first lead of the night in the third. John Topoleski delivered a two-run single and Jeremiah Tullidge followed with a two-base hit that plated two runs.
Lee battled right back to capture a 4-3 advantage in the bottom of the fourth. Hawkins was hit by a pitch. Nelo stroked his second single and freshman catcher Nathan Wierzgac posted a one-base knock that plated Hawkins and Nelo.
Tusculum tied the game at four in the sixth. Chris Waylock started the rally with a single. Nick Rodriguez advanced Waylock to third with a double and Andrew Bowerman drove in the tying run with a groundout.
Neither team scored again until the 10th inning. Rodriguez played the role of hero when he singled to push two runners home and give winning pitcher Ayers all the support he needed.
“I didn’t think we played with a lot of energy and enthusiasm tonight,” said coach Mark Brew after his Flames dropped to 21-10 on the year. “I’m sure the weather had something to do with that, but in my mind it is just an excuse. It was the same for both teams. With all that said, we had several opportunities to assert ourselves and win the game. Give Tusculum credit as they matched us all night until they got the big hit in the 10th.”
Rob Gustitus hurled the first three innings for the Flames. He surrendered four hits, three earned runs, walked three and struck out two. CJ Lusted came on and pitched four solid innings for the Brew crew. He allowed three hits, one earned run, struck out five and walked just one. Jeremy Bales and Jeremy Stawychny came on for an inning apiece of scoreless ball.
Carlos Ditren entered the contest in the 10th. The right-hander allowed a pair of hits, two earned runs and walked one. “I thought CJ threw well in relief as did Bales and Stawychny,” pointed out Brew. “Their closer (Ayers) did a good job of holding us down late.” Ethan Carpenter started for the Pioneers and worked 7 1/3 innings, allowing seven hits and four earned runs.
Wierzgac pounded out three hits and knocked in a pair of runs for the Flames. Nelo and Hawkins had a pair of hits. Nelo had two RBIs and scored once, while Hawkins put two runs on the board. “I continue to like the play of freshman (Nate) Wierzgac,” noted Brew. “It is refreshing to see his energy and simplicity of his approach at the plate and behind the dish.”
Lee will face an even bigger challenge this weekend when third-ranked West Florida visits Olympic Field for a three-game series. The action begins with a doubleheader on Saturday, slated for a noon start. The final contest is scheduled for a 2 p.m. Sunday start.
“It’s a big weekend series for us against West Florida,” noted Brew. “They will bring one of the top NCAA Division II programs to campus and we are excited to compete with them. It should be a great opportunity for the community to see some good baseball.”