AIKEN, S.C. - The Georgia Southwestern baseball team's magical run at the Peach Belt Conference Tournament came to an end Sunday evening in the championship game as the 10th-ranked Cougars from Columbus State defeated the Hurricanes, 6-5, at at Roberto Hernandez Stadium.
The 'Canes were nine outs away from the university's first trip to the NCAA Division II tournament (in any sport), leading 4-3 after six innings of play. But t was a bad time for GSW's perfect record (26-0) - with the lead after six - this season to be snapped.
GSW coacg Bryan McLain scoffed at the notion it was surprising his team was even in the position, after finishing eighth in the final regular-season conference standings, and barely snuck into the tournament as the West's No. 4 seed. GSW upset No. 1 seed Francis Marion in the first round, then downed Flagler in the semis to reach Sunday's title game.
"I knew we were capable," said McLain, whose team finished with a 29-19 record -- the Hurricanes' best since joining Division II in 2007.
Columbus State pounced on an early opportunity in the bottom of the first inning when Alex Montes made his way to third off an error by the Georgia Southwestern hurler Chris Carroll, who tried to pick off Montes at first. Peach Belt Conference Player of the Year Jason Rogers capitalized on Montes' position by sending a ball to the shortstop who threw Rogers out at first, allowing Montes to score the first run of the game.
The Hurricanes did not let the Cougars get too comfortable in the lead as they tied things back up in the top of the third inning. Bainbridge's Beau Parker --- who was one of the three Hurricanes to be named to the All-Tournament Team, along with Kevin Carroll and Americus native Jody Sellars ---- found his way home off the bat of Kevin Carroll, who grounded out to the third baseman.
Kevin Carroll finished the PBC Tournament 7-for-13, with 6 RBI, 4 runs scored, 1 walk and 1 stolen base. Parker went 7-for-10 with a triple, 7 runs scored, 3 RBI, 2 walks and 3 SB. Sellars threw 7.2 innings, allowed two earned runs with three walks and three strikeouts in the semifinal win against Flagler.
The 'Canes blew into the lead in the top of the fifth inning when they posted three runs off three hits and one Cougar error. Chris Lingham scored first in the inning when Kevin Carroll singled through the right side before both Parker and Kevin Carroll scored when Trent Dooley laced a double to right field to set the score at 4-1.
Columbus State got one run back in the bottom of the inning to pull within two as Eric Skinner scored off a sacrifice fly to right field by Rogers.
The Cougars continued to close the gap in the bottom of the sixth inning as they pulled to within one. Mitch Rider made his way home to put the score at 4-3 when Cameron Griffin sent a shot to the shortstop to reach base on a fielder's choice.
Kevin Carroll scored from second off a line drive single to left field by Byron Haynes in the top of the seventh inning to allow Georgia Southwestern to push their lead back out to two runs.
Eric Weiss sent a ball out over the right field wall in the bottom of the inning to help Columbus State fight back once more.
Rogers later found his way across the plate to tie the game back up once again at 5-5 off a ground ball to the shortstop by Ryan Lewis.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, Columbus States' Weiss laid down a small dribbler that bounced slowly down the first base line to give Scoop Pharr the ability to stride across the plate, giving the Cougars their second one-run lead of the game at 6-5.
GSW left runners on second and third in the ninth as the Cougars held on to their one-run lead to secure the 2010 Peach Belt Conference Baseball Tournament Championship, their fourth tournament championship victory.
Georgia Southwestern had five batters collect multiple hits with Parker going a perfect 2-for-2 with two runs scored. Haynes was 2-for-3 with one RBI and Dooley secured two RBIs while going 3-for-5 at the dish.
After the win, Columbus State earns the Peach Belt Conference's automatic berth into the 2010 NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Baseball Tournament.