KODAK, Tenn. – All season, Newberry has ranked among the top-hitting teams in the South Atlantic Conference.
But in the end Friday night, it was the Wolves’ patience at the plate that delivered a 7-6 win over Mars Hill in the 2017 Pilot/Flying J South Atlantic Conference Baseball Championship.
The Wolves (32-19) moved into the winner’s bracket with a two-out, walk-off walk by Ben Herring, the culmination of a frenzied comeback that included seven unanswered runs, six of which came in the final three frames.
Derek Olenchuk came to the plate with one out in the ninth and laced a triple deep into the gap in left-center. Mars Hill (29-20) responded by tossing two intentional walks to load the bases and bringing in a right-hander to face right-handed hitters Jeff Sneed and Herring.
Sneed, who finished the day 3-for-5 at the plate, fouled off four consecutive pitches before going down on strikes, leaving the decision up to Herring. The junior was ahead 2-0 and 3-1, nearly drawing a walk on the fifth pitch of the at-bat as the offering painted the outside corner at the thigh.
But Herring was patient on the next pitch as well, flinching slightly as the throw settled low to set off a mob near the second base bag nine minutes before midnight.
Herring’s walk provided the exclamation point to the Wolves’ stunning comeback victory. Newberry found itself down 6-0 in the fifth inning, but began to blaze the comeback trail with an unearned run in the fifth.
The effort started in earnest two frames later, when a bases-loaded walk and a two-run single by Olenchuk to cut the deficit to 6-3. The rally started with back-to-back singles by the right-handed Sneed and Herring, key to breaking the early-game dominance by Mars Hill left-handed starter Zac Brown and first reliever Jared Mathewson.
Sneed and Herring were again the catalysts in the eighth, with Sneed’s first-pitch double and Herring’s single on an 0-1 count slicing the deficit to a single run. Zach White hit a ground rule double down the left-field line that bounced on the warning track a foot into fair territory and over the wall in foul ground to score Herring to tie the game in the eighth.
Sneed went 3-for-5 at the plate with a double and three runs scored. Herring was 2-for-4 with a pair of runs and two RBI’s. Olenchuk added a pair of RBI’s while Danton Hyman and White had one apiece.
Zack Kelly had an uncharacteristically difficult start, turning in his shortest outing of the season at 3.2 innings and allowing five runs on eight hits. The Lions scored at least one run in four of the first five innings to build what seemed to be an insurmountable 6-0 advantage.
But the Wolves’ bullpen picked up the first team all-SAC honoree and kept the Lions’ potent offense at bay throughout the rest of the contest.
Robert Westenrieder and Barrett Walton were particularly effective, combining to allow just one hit over the final 4.2 innings. Walton earned the win with 0.2 innings of work, coming in with a runner on first and one out in the ninth. Westenrieder was nearly impenetrable in his 4.0 frames, with a one-out single in the final frame representing the only Mars Hill hit against him.
Newberry advances to play No. 2 seed Lincoln Memorial in a winner’s bracket contest Saturday at 7:30 p.m. Links to live stats and video and audio feeds are available on the Baseball schedule page.
Highlights (courtesy of the Eagle Sports Network)
Postgame interview with Ben Herring and Coach Russell Triplett (courtesy of the Eagle Sports Network)