ROCK HILL, SC — Winthrop battled back late against VMI on Sunday as Kyle Edwards’ RBI sacrifice fly in the ninth propelled the Eagles to a 5-4 win over the Keydets in the Big South series finale in Lexington.
The Eagles came out on the good end of a back and forth game between Big South Conference rivals. Designated hitter Stephen Wallace put the Eagles ahead 3-2 in the fourth with a big two-run blast to left field. However, the Keydets battled back to take the lead with a pair of runs in the seven. But it was Winthrop that persevered in the final innings as Leighton Daniels’ third hit of the game tied things in eighth and Edwards’ clutch RBI sacrifice fly to center field put the Eagles up for good as Winthrop went on to win 5-4. Sunday’s win in the series rubber match with VMI gives the Eagles their second consecutive Big South series win.
The win improves Winthrop’s record to 19-32 on the season including 7-14 in Big South play while VMI falls to 20-32 on the year and 6-15 in the conference. The Eagles return to action on Tuesday as the team travels to Wake Forest for a rematch with the Demon Deacons at 6:00 p.m. in Winston-Salem. Winthrop fell to Wake Forest 10-2 earlier this season in Rock Hill.
Winthrop got things rolling right out of the gate with a run in first. Daniels led off the game with a base hit to right field and was eventually brought in to score on Cody Dolan’s ground out to third base to give the Eagles an early 1-0 lead.
The Keydets answered in the second inning with Eric Mayer’s two-out base hit to center field off Eagles’ right-hander Joey Strain. The single moved Ray Lopez from first to third however, Lopez alertly advanced home when Michael Patrick misplayed the ball in center field tying the game at 1-1. Matt Winn’s RBI single off Strain in the third scoring Jordan Tarsovich put the Keydets on top 2-1.
VMI’s lead didn’t last long as Eagles’ designated hitter Wallace stepped to the plate in the top of the fourth with a runner on second and two outs and launched his second home run of the season over the left field fence. Wallace’s two-out, two-run blast swung the Eagles back on top 3-2 through four innings of play.
VMI battled back in the bottom half of the seventh to take a 4-3 lead with a pair of RBI singles from Brandon Angus and Winn off of Eagles’ reliever Eric Ruth. As they have done all game, the Eagles clawed back to tie it up in the eighth. Daniels’ slap base hit to right center allowed pinch runner Luke Maldonado to hustle home from second base to knot the game at 4-4.
The Eagles continued to battle in the ninth as senior captain Matt Lobacz led off the inning with a double down the right field line and was ushered up to third on a sacrifice bunt from Clay Altman. After an intentional walked to Jace Whitley, freshman shortstop Edwards came through with a big sacrifice fly to center field scoring Lobacz from third and putting the Eagles back on top 5-4.
Ruth (2-0) took the mound in the bottom of the ninth for his third inning of relief and shut down Keydets to lock up the 5-4 win for the Eagles.
Both teams got solid starting pitching as VMI’s Conner Bach when seven strong innings allowing four runs on six hits and struck out eight while Winthrop’s Strain countered a firm six inning outing allowing three runs on six hits and fanning eight. Ruth’s second longest outing of the season earned him his second win of the season as he dealt three strong innings of relief surrendering just one run on three hits while striking out two.
At the dish, Daniels put together a big day for the Eagles going 3 for 4 with an RBI and a run scored including the big game-tying RBI single in the eighth inning. Dolan remained consistent offensively for the Eagles as his double in the fourth set the table for Wallace’s two-run shot to left field. The hit extends Dolan’s reach base streak to a season high 15 games while increasing his hit streak to eight games.