Taking advantage of an unusual fourth inning and relying on a complete-game performance by senior pitcher Jeremy Stawychny, the Lee baseball team moved to within one victory of the NCCAA Mid-East Region Championship by defeating rival Union University, 5-0 on Wednesday afternoon.
The Flames will enjoy watching the two other remaining clubs (Hiwassee College from Georgia and Union) battle back through the loser’s bracket for the opportunity to face the host in a 4 p.m. Thursday contest slated for Olympic Field.
The battle between the two Gulf South Conference teams was scoreless after the first three innings, but the fourth frame will long be talked about by those who endured the mid-80 temperatures for the nine-inning encounter. The Flames sent 10 batters to the plate in the fourth and put four runs on the board while collecting only a couple of singles.
Union pitcher Samuel Davis hit Derrick Pitts with an inside fastball to help start the uprising. Zac Hawkins followed with a routine sacrifice bunt and then Davis proceeded to hit the next two Lee batters (Blake Ray and Josh Silver) to load the bases.
Nate Wierzgac put the Flames on top to stay when he drew a walk and pushed Pitts across the plate. Cameron Brewster followed with a one-base hit that scored Ray. Jordan Stewart bounced a high hopper over the first baseman’s head that scored Silver and Wierzgac. Davis recorded a strikeout, but then hit Andres Nelo with another pitch before the long half-inning ended.
“I don’t know if I have ever seen four batters hit by pitches in the same inning,” remarked coach Mark Brew after his Flames recorded their ninth straight victory and improved to 32-17 on the year. “We knew that Davis liked to pitch inside and we had our batters crowding the plate. I don’t know how well some of our players liked the move, but it certainly worked out in our favor today.”
Lee put an insurance run on the board in the eighth inning when Siosi Poti doubled and scored on a single by Pitts. The Flames made the best of eight hits in the win. Brewster had a pair of singles and an RBI, while Stewart banged out a double and a single and knocked in a pair of runs. Wierzgac added a hit and an RBI, and also scored. Silver got into the act with a single and a run. Lee’s sixth-, seventh-, eighth- and ninth-place hitters produced six hits and four RBIs.
“[Tuesday] night it was the top of the order doing the job for us and this afternoon the bottom of the order produced,” noted Brew. “This is the kind of play it takes to win tournament baseball games. Our pitching has been excellent and having two starters go the distance should put us in great shape for Thursday’s contest. We will start Dustin Lawson and then we’ve got plenty of bullpen arms, if needed.”
Stawychny (7-4) pitched nine innings and threw 102 pitches. He scattered 10 hits, struck out three and did not walk a batter. Davis (3-3) suffered the loss. He worked six innings, giving up six hits and four earned runs. He struck out seven and walked two, but hit five Flames with pitches before the day ended. Andrew Wilson hurled the final three innings for the Bulldogs.
“Our defense really helped Jeremy today and he helped himself on a couple of occasions with nice, heads-up plays,” added Brew. “Three double plays were big for us in preventing any possible Union rallies and that has been a factor for our club all season.”
Union had four hitters with two hits apiece. Wacey Russell and Kyle Bryan each collected a double and a single, while Michael Flores and Andrew Allen also had two hits apiece.