By Joshua J. Darling, Sports Information Director
LAGRANGE, Ga. – No. 2/10 LaGrange (14-6, 3-0 CCS) rallied from down three late against the top team in the land before falling by a narrow 6-5 margin to No. 1 Birmingham-Southern (22-2, 5-1 SAA) in an NCAA Division III baseball game on Wednesday, March 22.
BSC would waste no time in getting on the board early as Cam McNearney singled with one out stole second with two outs – but wouldn't need the extra bag as Noah Best belted a two-run shot for a 2-0 lead.
The Panthers would cut that in half when they manufactured a run in the home half of the opening frame. That would take the form of a leadoff walk from senior outfielder Rhett Mixon (Loganville, Ga.), who then hit second on a passed ball before senior third baseman Joe Ruth (Chiefland, Fla.) singled him home to make it 2-1. He would eventually reach third with a runner on first on a walk before a pop out ended any further threat.
LC would resume that threat in the second with second baseman Jackson McElvy (Kennesaw, Ga.) getting hit by a pitch with two outs and then swiping second. Mixon would follow with a walk but a fly ball to center got Birmingham-Southern out of the jam.
That would not be the case in the third, however, as junior catcher David Smigelski (Canton, Ga.) took advantage of a runner on and pounded a ball over the fence for a two-run homer that gave the Panthers a 3-2 lead. Junior designated hitter Jared Aldridge (Carrollton, Ga.) laced a double to keep the pressure on but a strikeout and fly out limited the damage for the visiting Panthers of Birmingham.
After a 1-2-3 fourth for both teams, BSC plated a run without benefit of a hit in the fifth to tie it. Jakob Zito drew a leadoff walk and promptly stole second before being sacrificed to third. He would then come home on a wild pitch to make it 3-3.
They would add to that in the sixth, beginning with a leadoff homer by Ian Hancock and cap it with a two-RBI double by Wesley Diamantis that scored Zito and Jackson Webster for a 6-3 advantage. LaGrange came right back in the bottom of the frame as Mixon singled with two outs and junior outfielder Jorge Fragoso (East Point, Ga.) doubled to put both runners in scoring position with two outs. Ruth was then intentionally walked to load the bases before BSC got out of it with a grounder to shortstop to maintain their three-run lead.
After making sure a Birmingham-Southern double in the seventh went for naught and shutting them down in order in the top of the eighth, the Panthers got back in it in the home half of the frame. A walk sandwiched between two singles would see Mixon drive home junior second baseman Adam Dorn (Canton, Ga.) before Fragoso lofted a sac fly to score McElvy from third to cut it to 6-5.
LaGrange kept up the pressure with a Ruth double that put runners on second and third and freshman outfielder Curt Bonner (Cartersville, Ga.) was walked intentionally to set up a force at any base with one out. It wouldn't end up being necessary as BSC rang up the next two batters to keep it at one run. That would be as close as they would get, however, as both team's offense fell by the wayside, ending with three straight fly outs in the bottom of the ninth to seal the narrow 6-5 final.
Held to just seven hits as a team, McNearney would be the only Birmingham-Southern player with multiple hits, going 2-for-4 with a double and run scored but it would be Best and Diamantis that produced the bulk of the runs. Both would plate two, Best with his homerun and Diamantis with a double, while Hancock had the other RBI with his solo jack.
Luke Jones would be the first man in out of the bullpen, throwing 2.2 scoreless innings that saw him strike out three and give up just one hit to get the win and move to 2-1. Connor Adams would handle the backend as he barely locked down his five save, allowing two runs, two walks and three hits in two innings of work.
Smigelski led the charge for LaGrange, belting his third homerun of the season to finish with two RBIs, a walk and a run while Ruth was 3-for-4 with a double, walk and RBI. They were joined by Mixon with a 2-for-3 day that included a pair of walks, RBI and run scored and Fragoso with the other RBI on a sac fly along with a double. Bonner rounded out the offense, going 2-for-4.
Freshman pitcher Eduardo Peralta (David, Chirqui, Panama) went the first 4.1 innings, allowing just two earned runs, three hits and a pair of walks to the best team in the country. Fellow freshman Eli Folds (Cullman, Ala.) surrendered three earned runs and four hits in 2.1 innings to take the loss and fall to 1-1 and sophomore pitcher Ashton Shackleford (Ellerslie, Ga.) threw 2.1 scoreless and hitless innings, striking out five along the way, to keep the Panthers in the game late.
The Panthers return to Collegiate Conference of the South (CCS) play as they host Covenant in a three game series from March 24-25. First pitch of the opener on Friday, March 24 is set for 7 p.m. with the doubleheader portion slated for a 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. on Saturday, March 25.