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TC Baseball Fights Off Tigers to Become GCAC Champions (2500 hits)

Needing only one win to clinch the Gulf Coast Athletic Conference title for the second year in a row, Talladega College baseball faced a looming obstacle in the Tigers of Edward Waters College this weekend. Not only did TC take home the conference trophy… but also a fourth-seed bid to the GCAC/TranSouth Conference Tournament taking place in just over a week.

The implications of the three-game weekend set were huge for both teams squaring off in northeastern Florida. Edward Waters needed a sweep of the Tornadoes in order to win the conference title, while TC was looking for a pair of wins to boost them beyond the bottom two seeds in the first rounds of the playoffs. To that end, Coach Wilberto Ramos looked to his ace to lead the team by the Tigers in game one.

Carrying a team-leading 2.49 ERA and 8.36 strikeouts per game, Ryne Drummonds took the mound in the opening challenge of Saturday's double-header. From the start, Drummonds took command by striking out three of his first four batters faced in the game.

In the bottom of the second inning, Edward Waters hitters led off with a single and a double to set up a pair of runners in scoring position for Reynaldo Otero. The senior Tiger catcher would drill a ground ball towards Chase Benfield at shortstop. Benfield nabbed the runner coming from third base at the plate on a perfect throw to Tornado catcher Kameron Mizzell to keep the game scoreless. Immediately afterwards, however, a sacrificial knock towards the right side of the infield would give second baseman Nick Foster only one play at first, permitting the first run to cross. A single into right field would follow and score Otero before a rundown between first and second bases ended the inning with the Tigers on top 2-0.

Offensively the Tornadoes were nowhere to be found. Talladega had only two hits going into the sixth inning, while Drummonds pushed aside his second inning performance and held the Tigers to only one hit afterwards.

In inning six, Dion Duncan blasted a towering fly ball to left field, where it was caught with a leap by outfielder Neil Martino on the warning track. The shot was as close to a homerun as the Tornadoes would see in the series, but it appeared to shift momentum into Talladega's favor. Benfield followed Duncan by jabbing a sharp single into right field, before Tiger right-hander Kenneth Crosby walked only his second batter of the game in Nerio Barreto. With a pair of runners on base, Mizzell singled over the fielder at first base to score Benfield with two outs. Crosby was able to strikeout George Santiago and strand Barreto and Mizzell on the bases to preserve a one-run lead.

Talladega was unable to score in the seventh inning as Johnathan Holbeck came on for Edward Waters and earned the save. Drummonds took the difficult loss while allowing only two runs on four hits.

With fourth-seed placement on the line, Talladega started Jeff Pool in the late game of the double-header. Pool struggled early with command of his curveball as he threw three wild pitches and allowed a run on two singles in the second inning alone. In the third, Pool gave up a long single into left field to leadoff the inning. With a runner on, EWC's 2-hole hitter laid down a bunt in an attempt to sacrifice; however, no defenders were able to field the bunt timely, and so the first two runners of the inning were aboard with no outs. Another bunt would follow, and Pool fielded it himself and decided to attempt to force out the runner heading to third base. The throw was not in time - thus the bases were loaded.

Pool stuck out his next batter, but then gave up a one-out, bases-loaded walk to score the second run of the game for the Tigers. A two-run single would come next, and heading into the fourth inning the Tornadoes had a four-run deficit to erase.

Responding with authority in the top of the fourth inning, Talladega started to heat up as Luis Benitez drilled a hit into right field for a one-out single. A double to the wall in center from Kody Etheridge set up outfielder Brandon Roberts for a double which bounced past the right fielder and scored both prior base runners. A bunt single from Nick Foster and a walk to Dion Duncan then forced Edward Waters to make a pitching change; Kelcey Bradley came on to replace Bryan Walker. Bradley's second pitch was grounded up the middle, forcing the shortstop to dive and come up making his only possible play to get Duncan out on the force at second base. The fielder's choice scored Roberts. Nerio Barreto gave the Tornadoes the 5-4 immediately afterwards with a two-out, two run double down the right-side line.

Five runs in the fourth inning proved to be all Talladega would need. Pool pounded the strike zone on Edward Waters to pick up the win that clinched the GCAC title for the Tornadoes in 2013.

On Sunday the Tornadoes came ready to earn the right at a fourth seed positioning in the conference tournament beginning April 28. In game three Ryan Pettus pitched 5.0 strong innings and allowed three earned runs. He was backed up mightily by the bats of the Tornadoes. In all, Talladega came up with twenty-two hits on the day and won 13-5 in nine innings.

Talladega baseball moves to 28-22 on the season and finishes GCAC play at 9-3. TC will play Concordia College of Selma Thursday, April 25 as they go for their thirtieth win of the year.

Written by Bryan Chunn
Posted By: Reginald Culpepper
Thursday, April 25th 2013 at 4:52PM
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