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Ploneers complete sweep of Bears, finish third in SAC standings

Nate Montgomery posted seven RBI in Tusculum's DH sweep of Lenoir-Rhyne (photo by Chuck Williams)
Nate Montgomery posted seven RBI in Tusculum's DH sweep of Lenoir-Rhyne (photo by Chuck Williams)

GREENEVILLE, Tenn. --- Nate Montgomery finished the day with seven RBI while Bryson Ford had a walk-off single in the night-cap as the Tusculum University baseball team swept a South Atlantic Conference doubleheader over visiting Lenoir-Rhyne University Monday at Pioneer Park.

Tusculum won the first game 6-5 as senior Bradley Evans drove in the tying and winning scores with his two-run homer in the seventh inning.  The Pioneers completed the series sweep with a 5-4 win in nine innings thanks to Ford's one-out, walk-off single.

The Pioneers (30-19, 17-7 SAC) complete the weekend sweep over the Bears (22-27, 7-17 SAC) while securing a tie for third place in the final league standings. 

TU and Catawba College tied for third place honors but the Indians won the tiebreaker and will be the No. 3 seed in this week's Pilot/Flying J SAC Baseball Tournament.  The Pioneers will be seeded fourth and will open against Catawba this Friday night at 7:30 p.m. from Smokies Stadium in Kodak, Tennessee.

All three games were one-run decisions this weekend as the Bears tied for eighth place in the conference but lost in a tiebreaker to Coker College as the Cobras secure the final spot in the SAC Tournament.

Tusculum also clinched a 30-win season with the victories on Monday as the Pioneers have posted 30 or more wins in 16 of their last 17 campaigns, a stretch dating back to 2003.

Game 1: Tusculum 6, Lenoir-Rhyne 5

Montgomery went 2-for-4 with three RBI while Evans also had a two-run homer and a double in Tusculum's 6-5 win over Lenoir-Rhyne in Monday's opener.  TU rallied from behind twice to get the victory.

Lenoir-Rhyne opened the scoring in the top of the third inning as Hunter Jackson singled, moved to second on a wild pitch and scored on Brock Johnson's fifth double of the season for a 1-0 L-R lead.

Tusculum responded with three runs in the bottom of the frame, all with two outs.  Sam Urban drew a walk, moved to third on Jaden Steagall's single and scored on Daulton Martin's RBI hit to tie the game at 1-1. After Ford was hit by a pitch to load the bases, Montgomery was clutch with a two-out, two-run single to left field to give the Pioneers a 3-1 lead.

Tusculum added a run in the fifth as Martin led off with a walk, stole second and later scored on Montgomery's RBI hit up the middle for a 4-1 TU advantage.  The Pioneers loaded the bases again with one out when Evans legged out an infield hit.  L-R reliever Kain Kiser took over for starter Alex Shirazi and got out of the jam with a strikeout and a ground out to leave the game at a three-run deficit.

In the top of the sixth, the Bears roared back as Zack Shoemaker cleared the bases with his three-run double to tie the game at 4-4.  Jackson followed with a RBI single to bring in the go-ahead run as the Bears regained the lead at 5-4.

The Pioneers were retired in order in the bottom of the sixth by Kiser, but TU reliever Austin Collins did the same in the seventh against the Bears.  In the bottom of the seventh, Kiser retired the first two batters to make it seven in a row.  Jarel McDade snapped that streak when he reached on an infield error to set the table for Evan who lined a two-run shot over the wall in left field for a his third homer of the season and give TU a 6-5 lead.

The Bears had the tying run at third base with two outs in the eighth inning, but Collins got a strikeout to preserve the one-run lead.

TU southpaw Mitch McCain made his second straight relief appearance against the Bears as he struck out the first batter he faced, but gave up a single to E.J. Ranel.  But McCain closed out the game with a strikeout and a fielder's choice to record his first save of the season.

Collins (2-1) pitched 2.1 shutout innings where he walked two and struck out a pair.  Kiser (1-2) suffered the loss as he pitched three strong innings, allowed one hit, two runs (both unearned), no walks and four strikeouts.

TU starting pitcher Zach Sanders pitched well in a no-decision as he went five innings, allowed one run on two hits, two walks and two strikeouts.

Game 2: Tusculum 5, Lenoir-Rhyne 4 (9 innings)

Montgomery and Ford provided the offense while senior outfielder Sam Urban made a game-saving catch as Tusculum defeated Lenoir-Rhyne 5-4 in nine innings in the night-cap.

Tusculum could only muster five hits, but drew eight walks and stole five bases, while TU relief pitcher Alec Lay blanked the Bears for the final two extra frames.

TU starter Andrew Willis pitched well in the first three innings as he retired the first seven he would face and worked out of a two-on, one-out situation in the third.

In the bottom of the third inning, the Pioneers worked three walks from L-R starter Paul Hall to load the bases with one out.  Montgomery got the Pioneers' first hit of the game with his grand slam over the scoreboard in left field for a 4-0 lead. It was Montgomery's fourth homer of the season and TU's fourth grand slam on the year.

The Bears got the first two batters on in the fourth inning, but back-to-back strikeouts and an inning-ending fielder's choice as Willis and the Pioneers kept the visitors scoreless.

But in the fifth, L-R put together some two-out magic as Ranel drew a walk and Fuller grounded a single through the right side to extend the inning.  Matthew Freeman trimmed the TU lead to one with his three-run blast to left field to make the score 4-3 Pioneers.

Hall remained in the game for L-R as he blanked the Pioneers in the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.

In the top of the seventh, Corbin Watson led off with a double to put the tying run at second base.  Ranel bunted him over the third and Fuller followed with a sacrifice fly to knot the score at 4-4.

L-R relief pitcher Hunter Martin blanked the Pioneers in the seventh and the eighth inning.  Meanwhile, Lay got out of a pair of jams both of his innings of relief.  In the eighth Will Jones hit a one-out double, but Lay got a ground out and a strikeout to end the frame.  In the ninth, Watson led off with a walk.  Ranel lined a shot to the gap in the right field but Urban made a spectacular diving catch.  From his knees, Urban threw quickly to Martin who relayed the throw to Montgomery at first base to complete the double play.

In the bottom of the ninth, senior Zack Finchum led off with a single to right field.  Finchum looked to be picked off as Hunter Martin threw to first base but the throw to second base went into left field allowing Finchum to move to third base with no outs. Hunter Martin posted a strikeout and walked Steagall and eventually an intentional free pass to Daulton Martin to load the bases.  Ford came up with the walk-off single to center field to bring home Finchum with the game-winning run in his home finale at Pioneer Park.

Lay improved his record to 3-2 on the season as he pitched two shutout innings, allowing one hit, one walk with a strikeout.  Hunter Martin (1-5) was charged with the loss and he went 2.1 innings with three hits, one run, two walks and four strikeouts.

Daulton Martin finished the day with three walks to increase his NCAA Division II leading tally to 51 bases on balls which are the second-most ever by a Pioneer in a season.  He also raised his career total to 104 walks which are the third-most in school history and just two from matching the career-mark of 106 walks by Sean Cotten from 2008-2011. 

Tusculum batters were hit by a pitch on four occasions Monday to raise the team total to 78, which is a new school single-season record.

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