BRISTOL, Tenn. – The King Tornado punched their one-way ticket to the Conference Carolinas Baseball Tournament with a pair of wins over West Division leader, Belmont Abbey. King College defeated the Crusaders, first slugging their way to an 8-6 victory before Cory Rhodes threw a seven-inning, complete-game, one hitter in a 2-0 win in game two.
GAME ONE: Belmont Abbey 6, King 8
The King offense tagged Crusader ace Gabe Wallmeyer for seven runs (three earned) on 10 hits over 5.2 innings, doing just enough damage to hold on to an 8-6 win in game one of Friday's doubleheader.
After scoring the game's first run courtesy of an error by Belmont Abbey shortstop Ian Vazquez, King plated four in the fourth inning via a mix of miscues in the field as well as four singles sprinkled in throughout the lineup. Carl Roberts (Blountville, Tenn.) led the inning off with a walk and then stole second base. A second error by Vazquez put runners at second and third with one out for Bryant Walker, who shot a solid single into left field to score one. Senior Shane Timberlake (Lynchburg, Va.) hit a two-out, RBI single to right field. A throwing error on the play allowed a second run to score and put King up 4-0. Tyler Gaby (Bristol, Tenn.) got in on the hit parade and single to right, scoring King's fifth run of the game to take 5-0 lead.
Belmont Abbey responded in the fifth with three runs of their own. The first came after John Cucchiarella doubled to lead off the inning and two wild pitches later crossed the plate to get the Crusaders on the board. Tornado starting pitcher Reiss Stanley (Lenoir City, Tenn.) walked two of the next three hitters and each would eventually score to bring the game to within two runs. Emilio Pagan hit a RBI single while Jon Pilla hit a run scoring sacrifice fly ball to account for the runs.
After Josh Huffman's single turned into a two-bagger courtesy of an error by right fielder Caleb Shore, Garrett Cook hit a two-out double to the left field corner to build the King lead to three runs, 6-3.
Belmont Abbey battled back with two runs, both unearned, in the sixth. David Prichard (Hamilton, Ohio) entered the game and committed an error fielding a bunt followed by a Cucchiarella triple that scored a run. A throwing error by Shane Timberlake that brought first baseman Carl Roberts off of the bag allowed the second run to score, keeping BAC within one run.
King never relinquished the lead, despite the resiliency of the Crusaders. Belmont Abbey relief pitcher Taylor West gave up a towering fly ball to slugger Brandon Reed (Seymour, Tenn.) that carried over the left center field fence and then walked home a run in the bottom of the seventh, putting King up 8-5 heading into the eighth.
After Prichard tossed one inning of relief, the Tornado went deeper into the bullpen to bring out starter Wesley Houser to finish off the final three innings. Houser allowed only one run on two hits and struck out three hitters in his time on the mound. His only run allowed was on a home run by centerfield Justin Vazquez in the eighth. He earned his second save of the season with his three innings pitched.
Four different Tornado players had multi-hit days, but senior Shane Timberlake led the way going 3-for-4 on the day with a trio of singles and a RBI. Garrett Cook and Bryant Walker each had a pair of RBI. Reiss Stanley earned the win to improve to 5-4 on the season.
GAME TWO: Belmont Abbey 0, King 2 (F/7)
Cory Rhodes (Kissimmee, Fla.) stole the show and tossed a one-hit, complete game in a 2-0 victory that clinched the Tornado's first Conference Carolinas Tournament berth.
Rhodes quietly took a no hitter into the fifth inning before Stephen Mullis broke it up with a harmless single to right. He was one of only two Crusaders to make it as far as second base in the game. Rhodes struck out five hitters over seven innings pitched, allowing only one hit.
Rhodes' performance was supplemented by timely hitting from the Tornado lineup and one error that gave an insurance run to the hosts. In the first inning, Tyler Gaby led off with a single up the middle and through the use of small ball, scored from second on Carl Roberts' single into left center.
The only other run came in the bottom of the third. Shane Timberlake led off with his fourth hit of the day, a single up the middle and advanced to third when Gaby walked and Snyder reached on a throwing error from Belmont Abbey third baseman Emilio Pagan that drew his first baseman off of the bag. Josh Huffman got enough of a Steven Thiele delivery and delivered a sac fly to right, scoring Timberlake to put King up 2-0, a lead they never gave away.
Rhodes (8-2) took King the distance and fought through a jam in the top of the seventh with two on and the go-ahead run at the plate. The Crusaders called upon pinch hitter Matt Mazzolla with two outs, but the bruiser was served a steady diet of breaking pitches and fast balls off of the plate, setting up a big 3-2 curve that froze Mazzolla for the third and final out of the game.
With two wins and Erskine losing to Limestone earlier in the day, King College has clinched its place in the Conference Carolinas Baseball Tournament in its first season as a member institution. If King defeats Belmont Abbey for the sweep on Saturday, they will win the West Division and automatically earn the No. 2 in the conference tournament. Should they lose, they will still advance to the postseason but will rely on the rest of the league results to find its seed. The seeds are determined by winning percentage in league games with the No. 1 and No. 2 seeds being given to each division winner.
In addition to the dramatics that the game may provide, two special happenings will be taking place prior to the start of the game. In recognition of their induction into the King Hall of Fame, the 1987 NCCAA National Championship baseball team will be honored prior to the game and throw out the ceremonial first pitch. Darrell Mullins, a member of the 1987 team, will represent the team and throw the pitch to his son and current Tornado, Stephen Mullins. It is also Senior Day, and 10 seniors will be honored for their contributions to Tornado Baseball over their careers as well as celebrating their academic successes.
Game time is set for 12 p.m. Senior Day festivities will begin tentatively at 11:30 a.m. with the first pitch by the 1987 team to be delivered at 11:55 a.m., weather permitting.