NEWBERRY, S.C. - After 1,022 days without a baseball game on the campus of Newberry College, what had once been only a dream became a reality, as the Newberry Indians hosted the first game on campus since April of 2005. However, one inning spoiled the home opener at the Smith Road Complex, as the No. 24 Francis Marion University Patriots defeated Newberry, 3-2.
Newberry (1-3) earned plenty of first for the facility, including the first hit, first run, first RBI, first strikeout, and first extra base hit. But three runs in the top of the sixth by FMU (3-1) spelled out defeat.
After Josh McElwee (Andrews, S.C.) hit leadoff batter Greg Phelps on just the second pitch of the game, the freshman calmed down and made his first collegiate start a spectacular one by striking out 10 of the 18 batters he faced. McElwee pitched five innings of no-hit baseball, but would not earn a decision.
Newberry took the lead in the bottom of the first inning following a series of facility first. After Casio Grider (Hephzibah, Ga.) led off the inning with a groundout, Tyler Manasa (Miami, Fla.) became the first Indian to reach base at the Smith Road Complex, when he drew a walk.
Senior captain Nick Martin (Morehead City, N.C.) earned the facility's first-ever base hit with a hard hit single to right field on an 0-1 count, moving Manasa to third.
With runners on the corners, junior first baseman David Tunstill (Melbourne, Fla.) drove the first run across the Smith Road Complex home plate, when he reached on a fielder's choice, scoring Manasa.
McElwee had ended the top of the first by striking out FMU's Bryan Brown and kept the K's coming, striking out seven of eight batters, including five consecutive Patriot punchouts from the second to the fourth inning.
The Indians extended their lead to 2-0 in the bottom of the fifth. John Kirkland (Orlando, Fla.) led off with what appeared to be a routine fly out. But the Patriot left fielder was unable to corral the ball, and Kirkland hustled to second on the error. After Phillip Bartz (LaCrescent, Minn.) flied out to right center, Grider smacked a double to left, giving Newberry the two-run lead and becoming the first player with an extra-base hit in the new digs.
McElwee plunked Trent Knight to begin the top of the sixth, and was then pulled. Senior Brandon Petty (Melbourne, Fla.; 0-2) entered the game, but struggled to find the strike zone, walking three straight batters, with Knight scoring on his final base on balls. Gary Hersey (Key West, Fla.) forced Brown to fly out, but the runner on third was able to score on the sacrifice to tie the game. Keon Graves' double to left gave the guests the lead for good and tagged Petty with his second loss of the season.
Travis Howard (Columbia, S.C.) was able to get the second out of the inning before giving way to Stephen Byrd (Vero Beach, Fla.), who gave up two hits in the final 3.1 innings of the game.
Newberry had chances to push across the tying run in the sixth and seventh innings, as the Indians had runners in scoring position with one out in both frames. But two bases-loaded outs in the sixth and an inning-ending double play in the seventh stranded four Indians on base in those two innings. Zach Farry earned his second save of the season for FMU, allowing no base runners in his two innings of work.
The night had been dubbed "City of Newberry Night," with a fireworks show following the game, and the Newberry community did not disappoint. The attendance of 943 fans was the largest recorded crowd in Newberry baseball history, as well as being 49 fans over the highest single-season average in Division II history.
While the result was not what the home crowd had hoped for, the experience was second-to-none as the home opener was met with rave reviews.
The Newberry faithful will have to wait three weeks to see their Indian nine on the home diamond again. The next home game is Feb. 26 at 7 p.m. against No. 21 Georgia College and State.
The Indians travel to Kannapolis, N.C., this weekend for four games in the SAC Preseason Tournament. The first game at Fieldcrest Cannon Stadium, home of the Kannapolis Intimidators, will be at 4:30 against SAC foe Catawba. The game will not count in the conference standings.