GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Nathan Wierzgac went 3-for-4 and scored the game-winning run in the top of the ninth to lead Lee University to a 6-5 victory at Tusculum Tuesday night at Pioneer Park.
The Flames (26-21) avenge last month's loss to the Pioneers (27-18) while Tusculum suffers its third consecutive defeat entering the South Atlantic Conference postseason this weekend. The Pioneers will open the Pilot/Flying J SAC Baseball Championship on Thursday at 4 p.m. when they face Wingate in a single-elimination game at Smokies Stadium in Kodak, Tennessee. The winner of that game will advance to the double-elimination portion of the tournament which gets underway on Friday.
With the game tied at 5-5, Wierzgac got aboard in the ninth with a two-out single. Drew Johnson lined a double to the gap in left center moving Wierzgac to third. But the relay back to the infield was high as the ball tipped off the glove of the TC infielder allowing Wierzgac to scamper in with the go-ahead run.
In the bottom of the ninth, relief pitcher Kit Karson retired the side in order, including an outstanding defensive play turned in by himself to help his own cause. TC's Daulton Martin lined a missile back to the mound which Karson fielded at his ankles. He threw onto first base in time for the second out of the inning. Karson (2-5) recorded two strikeouts in the frame and finished the game with four total in his 1 2/3 innings of work for his second win of the season.
Tusculum senior reliever Tyler Hall suffered the loss despite throwing 3 2/3 strong innings where he scattered four hits, allowed one unearned run and posted three strikeouts.
Wierzgac drove in the first run of the game with his liner to the warning track in left field where sophomore outfielder Sam Urban made a spectacular diving catch. But the line out was deep enough to allow Tyler Payne to score from third. TC tied the game at 1-1 on Martin's two-out single.
In the second inning Jordan Howard led off with the first of his two doubles on the night. He would later score on Zack Zyburt's two-out single. TC tied the game again in the bottom of the frame on Seth DeHaven's first collegiate home run, a solo blast to left field with two outs.
Lee took its third lead of the night with an unearned run in the third inning, also coming with two outs. Wiergac singled, moved to second on a walk and later to third on a wild pitch. He would score on a passed ball for a 3-2 lead for the Flames.
Lee tacked on two runs in the fifth thanks to a Wierzgac RBI single and a run-scoring double off the bat of Howard for a three-run lead.
Tusculum wasted little time to answer as the Pioneers pulled off some two-out magic of their own. Colby Skeen drew a two-out walk and scored on Martin's 11th double of the year. Zach Lippincott followed with his sixth double of the season as he lined a shot down the left field line to bring in Martin. Zack Finchum drove in the tying run on his RBI single to center.
Tusculum had two great chances to break the tie in the sixth and eighth innings. In the sixth, TC had runners at first and second with no outs. But the TC runner at second base was picked off on "wheel play" for the first out of the inning. John Topoleski was hit by a pitch for a team-leading ninth time this season and a 30th time in his career, tying the program record with Trevor Adams, who was hit 30 times from 1999-2002. But the Flames got out of the jam with a double play.
In the eighth inning, TC got three walks from Larson to load the bases with one out. But Larson ended the threat with back-to-back strikeouts to keep the game tied at 5-5.
The Flames finished the game with 13 hits as Wierzgac and Payne each posted three-hit peformances, while Howard and Spencer Mossburg had two hits each.
Martin was the lone Pioneer with a multi-hit night as he went 2-for-3 with two RBI and two walks.