PEMBROKE — The unpredictability factor continued Saturday in the Peach Belt Conference.
A day after struggling Young Harris pounded 12th-ranked USC Aiken by 10 runs, the University of North Carolina at Pembroke’s red-hot baseball team had to salvage a doubleheader split with the league’s last-place team Georgia Southwestern courtesy of Dalton Knight’s first career two-homer game in the nightcap, 13-1.
“It’s probably the best day I’ve ever had, especially in college,” said Knight, UNCP’s junior designated hitter. “I’ve been struggling a little bit lately, but today I had some extra emotion and extra strength.”
Knight’s pair of shots over the right-field wall and a bases-clearing double off Zac Wittmus was more than enough run support for Garrett Hickman who helped the Braves rebound knot the series at 1 with eight strong innings for his fifth win. Zach Andrews suffered his first blown save of the season during a 5-4 loss in the opening game after the Hurricanes — losers of five straight — tagged the Braves’ closer for three runs on four hits in a decisive eighth.
“I think our guys wanted to go out there and show we’re a quality team (after Game 1),” said UNCP coach Paul O’Neil. “Garrett went out and competed. It’s not that his stuff is fabulous, he just competes and that’s what makes him special. That’s his best quality.”
Knight homered in the first and third inning, then ripped a double to the corner in right to push the Braves ahead, 8-0. He finished 4-for-5 with seven RBIs and doubled his career home-run total in a game dedicated to his grandmother who passed away on Friday.
“Last night I went home and got to spend a lot of time with family,” Knight said. “Today, I felt really relaxed.”
Added O’Neil: “Crappy things happen to you and then God shines on you the next day.”
Hickman preserved his scoreless outing in the sixth after coaxing Jarrod Taylor into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning with the bases loaded. It was the only time the JUCO transfer ran into serious trouble against the Hurricanes (5-17).
“This team doesn’t have the best record, but they were a pretty good team,” Hickman said after throwing 102 pitches. “I felt better today than I have the last few (weeks). My defense was outstanding.”
Gunning for his fourth save in a week in the opening game, Andrews tossed a scoreless seventh nursing a two-run lead in relief of Logan Cook before Neal Chamble’s double to right center knotted the score at 4. Les Cromer brought Chamble home four pitches later to bring Georgia Southwestern’s bench off its feet.
Through six, the Braves were able to overcome three double plays, a misjudged flyball in right leading to a run, an overthrow of first and a balk. That’s when O’Neil signaled to the bullpen for Andrews who didn’t have his best stuff.
The setback snapped UNCP’s (19-6, 8-6) seven-game winning streak coming into the weekend.
“We didn’t deserve to win Game 1,” O’Neil said. “We looked like a team that was 5-18 instead of 18-5.”
Drew Cole provided UNCP’s first runs of the afternoon with a two-run homer to right just under the scoreboard that tied the game at 2 in the third. The Braves would tack on two more before squandering the lead.
Georgia Southwestern Game 1 starter Matthew Suggs threw 136 pitches and scattered nine hits for the complete-game win — his second of the season in seven starts.
Today’s rubber game starts at 1 p.m. at Sammy Cox Field in Pembroke.
Reach Brad Crawford at 910-272-6111 or on Twitter @MrPalmettoSDS.
Ga. SW 5, UNCP 4
WP — Matthew Suggs. LP — Zach Andrews.
Leading hitters — UNCP: Cole 1-4, HR, 2 RBI; Gagnon 2-4, RBI; Denton 2-4. GSW: Chambless 2-3, 3 RBI; Benson 3-4.
UNCP 13, Ga. SW 0
Georgia-Southwestern000000001 — 1 5 0
UNC Pembroke301420300—13 14 2
WP — Garrett Hickman. LP — Zac Wittmus.
Leading hitters — UNCP: Knight 4-5, 2 HR, 2B, 7 RBI; Edgerton 1-3, 2B, 5 RBI.
Records — UNCP 19-6, 8-6. Ga.-SW 5-17, 3-11.