BRISTOL, Tenn. – A day after the King University baseball team clinched the fourth seed in the Conference Carolinas Tournament, the Tornado honored their seniors, and went for the sweep of visiting Barton College. All 15 players that made an appearance in the game for the Tornado were seniors as King took a 7-5 victory behind a stellar start from Alexander Gonzalez on the mound.
Barton (14-29, 7-14 CC) got on the board first, plating a two-out run on a Jacob Willis single up the middle. The lead was short lived, however, as King (21-27-1, 11-10 CC) answered in the bottom half of the frame. Tyler Gaby reached on an error to start the game, and stole second before Carl Roberts crushed his second home run of the season. The Blountville, Tenn., native ripped a 1-2 pitch over the right center field fence to give the Tornado a 2-1 lead after the first inning.
The King offense didn't slow down in the second inning with Landon Weitekamp lacing a leadoff single to center. Logan Schmidt drove in Weitekamp on a squeeze play before Gaby ripped a single to center that scored Garrett Cook. The Tornado then took a 5-1 lead when Hunter Smith scored Gaby with a groundout.
After the first inning, Gonzalez began to settle in, working his first 1-2-3 inning in the third, and another in the fifth. The Rincon, Puerto Rico native may not have been perfect, but he worked his way out of trouble all day, stranding two runners in four different innings. In all, he left eight Bulldogs on the bases in six innings of work. Gonzalez earned the win after allowing two runs on six hits and striking out eight on 113 pitches.
In the fifth inning, King added to their lead with Roberts ripping a single to right field before stealing second. He moved to third on a flyout, and scored on a two-out J.D. Wallace single to stretch the Tornado lead to 6-1 after five innings.
Barton didn't give up, however, as they mounted a rally in the seventh inning. A fielding error started the inning, and Avery Harper drove in the first Bulldog run of the frame with a single to left field. Chris Davis drove in another with a single to left center be coming around to score on a JT Bunce single up the middle, cutting their deficit to just 6-5. It looked as though the Bulldogs would tie the score as Tyler Garrett rolled a groundball towards second where Schmidt made a diving play to make the stop, but didn't have time to throw him out a first. However, the Bulldog runner that was on second tried to score and Schmidt rifled the ball home to Alex Azeredo who ran him back to third before Weitekamp tagged him out to end the threat.
The Tornado tacked on an insurance run in the eight as Justin Trent led off the inning with a single to right field before stealing second. He moved to third on a flyout before Cook dropped down a squeeze bunt to score him and give King a 7-5 lead.
Mark Hode came on to pitch the ninth inning for the Tornado and earned his first save, getting all three outs on six pitches. Roberts paced the offense going 2-for-4 with two runs scored and two runs batted in. Gaby also went 2-for-4 with two runs scored and another driven in.
King has won seven straight games going into the Conference Carolinas Tournament that starts on Thursday in Burlington, N.C. The Tornado will be the fourth seed and take on third seeded Pfeiffer University at 11:00 a.m. on Thursday at Burlington Athletic Stadium.