BRISTOL, Tenn. – King Baseball fell just short of a series sweep and a division championship on Saturday in an action-packed day of Tornado Athletics across the board. The Tornado honored 10 seniors on its Senior Day, but fell to the Belmont Abbey Crusaders 5-2 in the series and regular season finale. King will advance to the Conference Carolinas postseason tournament and will play the third seed Pfeiffer University Falcons on its opening day.
Belmont Abbey jumped out to an early 2-0 lead in the third inning when Wesley Houser walked the leadoff man, Cody Snyder could not get the ball out of his glove on the ensuing sacrifice attempt and the runner reached safely. After Houser got the next two hitters out and had runners on second and third, Gabby Amor lofted a sacrifice fly to center field to score one. After walking Justin Vazquez and putting runners on first and third, the Crusaders created a rundown situation and bought just enough time to allow the runner on third to score.
The Crusaders plated one in the next inning after Caleb Shore singled and stole second with two outs, setting up Stephen Mullis' double to the deep left center field, giving Belmont Abbey a 3-0 lead.
Belmont Abbey starting pitcher Nate Cudney kept the King bats silent through six innings, allowing only one hit through his first 14 batters faced. King opened up in the seventh after Jarrod Payne hit a solo home run to get King on the board followed by singles from seniors Bryant Walker and Doug Freeman before forcing a pitching change. The Tornado recorded two two-out hits, scoring an additional run to cut into the BAC lead, but left the bases loaded when Matt Parish struck out Carl Roberts to retire the side.
King threatened in the ninth and put the tying run at the plate while turning the lineup over to the top with one out. Bryant Walker lined a shot off of the chest of Belmont Abbey third baseman Emilio Pagan and after a short injury timeout awarded to the fielder, brought him in to close the game out. Pagan forced Tyler Gaby to fly out to center field and Cody Snyder to ground out to second, ending the game.
Wesley Houser (L, 7-5) threw 6.0 innings and allowed all five of Belmont Abbey's runs on seven hits. Senior Dustin Pannell tossed three innings of perfect relief work to keep King in the game, allowing zero hits and striking out four. Once Pannell took over in the seventh, Belmont Abbey did not have a baserunner the rest of the game.
Jarrod Payne and Bryant Walker each led the team with two of the Tornado's seven total hits. The home run by Payne was his second of the season.
Ten seniors were honored prior to the start of the game as they played their final contest at the King College Baseball Complex. Those seniors include: Shane Timberlake, Zach Winkle, Brandon Reed, Tyler Dacus, David Prichard, Dustin Pannell, Thomas Tilson, Daniel Glenn, Doug Freeman, and Bryant Walker.
Despite the loss, King will advance to the Conference Carolinas Baseball Tournament and have the No. 4 seed with a 16-11 league record. Pfeiffer holds the head-to-head tiebreaker with King and will take the No. 3 seed. East Division Champion Mount Olive will take the No. 1 seed into the tournament and West Division Champion Belmont Abbey the No. 2 seed.
No. 4 King will play No. 3 Pfeiffer in the first game of the Conference Carolinas Tournament at 11 a.m. on April 26. The tournament will be hosted by Barton College at Wilson Tobs Field, at Fleming Stadium. The entire tournament will run from April 26-29.