Tornado slide into conference championship round
BURLINGTON, N.C. – Needing a win to advance to the championship of the Conference Carolinas Tournament, the King University baseball team used a three-run sixth inning to break a 3-3 tie and went on to defeat Barton College by a score of 7-3 to earn the right to face the University of Mount Olive for the conference title.
Because Mount Olive has advanced through the bracket unscathed, the Trojans will win the Conference Carolinas championship with one win, while King (24-28-1) needs to defeat Mount Olive twice to claim the title by virtue of a Saturday loss in tournament play. Should the Tornado earn the win in today's contest, scheduled for 3:00 p.m., the teams will play a winner-take-all game on Monday at 11:00 a.m. with the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
Barton (16-32) took its first lead of the game in the third inning, scoring three times off of King starter Tyler Raymond on two hits in the frame. An RBI double started the scoring following a single and walk to lead off the inning before a suicide squeeze and a sacrifice fly made the score 3-2 in favor of the Bulldogs.
The Tornado tied the game in the fifth inning as Garrett Cook came home on a Stephen Mullins infield single. But King saved its biggest offensive fireworks for the sixth inning, exploding for a three-run outburst that sapped any remaining momentum from the Bulldogs' dugout.
King loaded the bases for right fielder Tom Hooker on a leadoff walk and consecutive singles by Geoff Cieslewitz and Justin Trent. Hooker drove in the first run of the inning on a sacrifice fly to center field. Garrett Cook then laid down a bunt single to again load the bases with one out for nine-hole hitter Cody Rogers. On an 0-1 count, Rogers bunted in front of the plate on a squeeze play that allowed Cieslewitz to score. Attempting to throw out Cieslewitz at the plate, the pitcher's throw was wide and allowed Trent to slide home safely as well to cap the three-run inning for King.
Alex Martin shut down the Bulldogs the rest of the way, inducing a bases-loaded lineout to Trent at second base on a spectacular leaping grab to end the seventh inning before working perfect eighth and ninth innings to earn his third win of the year. Martin pitched 4 2/3 innings in relief of Raymond, giving up just two hits and walking one while striking out four Bulldogs. Kerry Walker suffered the loss for Barton, giving up three runs in 1/3 of an inning pitched.
The Tornado jumped out to an early lead, scoring twice after Raymond worked a perfect first inning. After a one-out walk by Mullins, Raymond, who hit for himself in the lineup, lined an 0-1 offering into the right field corner for an RBI triple. He came home four pitches later on a JD Wallace single to give King a two-run advantage.
Mullins, Wallace, Cieslewitz, Trent, and Cook all had two-hit days for the Tornado, spearheading an offensive attack that racked up 11 hits and reached twice via the walk. Jacob Willis and Phillip Cotton combined for four of Barton's six hits on the day.
The Tornado are 0-4 against Mount Olive this season, including a 6-4 loss on Saturday night in a winner's bracket contest in the conference tournament. The top-seeded and 12th-ranked Trojans last fell to King in a conference tournament matchup last season, with King advancing to the championship round by virtue of a 6-4 win one year ago today. The Tornado went on to fall to Coker College twice, giving the Cobras the title in their final season as Conference Carolinas members.