After a weekend of cold, blustery baseball at the NCBA Division II District IV Playoffs in Clemson, USC Union’s first year club baseball team was eliminated, in the championship game, by Kennesaw State which, as a result, earned the No. 1 seed in the World Series later this month.
“Kennesaw State is ranked #1 in the Nation and has been all year,” said USC Union Head Coach Paul Wilkes. “They are on the West side of our conference and I knew we had to get through them to get to the World Series.”
The Bantams responded to an 8-6 first round loss to Alabama with back to back wins that put them in the tournament finale. In the second round, USC Union defeated Craven before exacting some revenge on ‘Bama in the semi-final.
Dontee Stewart and David Henderson each delivered two hits for USC Union in the first round. Stewart contributed a pair of singles and two RBIs while Henderson singled and homered with one RBI. Nick Owen added a RBI triple.
Hunter Watts was the tough luck pitcher in game one. Watts allowed four earned runs and three unearned runs with three strikeouts and three walks in his five innings of work.
Vincent Price pitched two innings of relief. He gave up one unearned run while striking out one batter and walking three.
Later that same night, the Bantams met Craven in the second round of the tournament where Henderson had a monstrous night at the plate, turning in four hits on four at-bats including a home run and three RBIs.
Stewart, Owen and Bubba Means each went 2-for-4 while Alec Acevedo, Mike Wood, Patrick Toney and Parker Burt added a hit apiece.
Spencer Rash picked up the win from the hill with seven strikeouts and six walks in seven innings. He allowed three earned runs, four unearned.
The next morning, USC Union faced Alabama for the second time in the tournament and escaped with a 6-4 win to advance to the championship round.
Henderson, again came up big for the Bantams with a 3-run bomb. Owen homered to plate two runs and Acevedo hit an RBI double. Means singled twice while Stewart and Burt each contributed a hit.
The winning pitcher was Taylor Sims, who went five innings. He allowed two runs, (one earned and one unearned) with four strikeouts and three walks. Cory Robertson picked up the save, hurling two innings of relief. Robertson also gave up one earned run with one unearned.
With rain coming down and even more on the way, the championship game was moved up to 12:45 p.m. on Saturday. It would be the Bantams’ fourth game in 24 hours.
“I have to give Kennesaw State credit because they beat us handily,” said Wilkes whose team fell, 9-2. “But I believe we could have won the game just as easily as we lost it. I guess it just wasn’t meant to be.”
Cory Robertson got the start on the mound for USC Union and gave up three runs in the first inning before being relieved by Vincent Price. Price pitched five innings and allowed five runs with two strikeouts and one walk. Hunter McAfee tossed the final inning for the Bantams and allowed one unearned run.
Burt led at the plate for USC Union with two singles. Stewart and Toney each added a hit.
While they didn’t get as far as they’d have liked, the first-year squad had a phenomenal season. They were ranked No. 4 in the nation at the conclusion of regular season and also earned the East Division Conference Championship.
“This was a great first year,” said Wilkes. “At the beginning of the fall, I knew I had a good group of players but I wasn’t sure how well we were going to mesh and play as a team. Once the season got underway in the spring, and we started playing Conference games, I knew we had a real good chance to go far into the playoffs.
“My players worked hard all year, and came to practice everyday with great attitudes,” he added. “I was very proud of the team. I have been on the road this spring, watching games, going to high schools, talking to recruits, and the future looks bright. We are going to lose some size next year but we will be gaining tons of speed. I look forward to continuing our winning tradition.”