GREENWOOD, S.C. – Fifth-seeded and 16th-ranked UNCP put together its 37th double-digit hitting attack of the season to support newcomer Connor Pratt's complete game gem and the Braves staved off elimination in the 2013 Peach Belt Conference Tournament with a 14-3 throttling of No. 1 USC Aiken on Thursday.
The triumph marked UNCP's (37-15) first-ever win over the nation's top-ranked team and the program's first win over a top-5 ranked squad since a three-game sweep of then-No. 4 North Florida early in the 2005 campaign. The Pacers (41-11), who came into the postseason ranked atop all three NCAA Division II baseball polls, have now dropped consecutive games for just the third time this season.
Zade Denton drove in a pair of runs and scored twice on a 4-for-5 outing and was one of four Braves to register multi-hit days at the plate. Drew Alford scored three times on a 3-for-5 performance, while Drew Cole (2-for-5 3 R) and Jordan Edgerton (2-for-4, 2 R) tallied a pair of hits as well. Max Gagnon registered a trio of RBI on a 1-for-4 hitting line.
USC Aiken got solo homers from Josh Miller, Bryce Baur and Bill Gerstenslager, but Branden Millhouse (2-for-3) was the only Pacer to collect more than one hit.
Pratt (3-3) struck out five and scattered seven hits and three earned runs across his first complete game of the season to grab the key victory, while USC Aiken starter Wyatt Brown (6-4) was tagged with the loss after allowing nine runs (four earned) on eight hits in 4-2/3 innings of work.
Baur's solo homer with two outs in the top of the first inning gave the Pacers the quick lead, but the momentum clearly favored the Braves the rest of the way out. The Braves scored a pair of unearned runs despite not recording a hit to grab the lead in the third and never looked back.
The Black & Gold scored three runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth to stretch its lead out to 9-1, but Aiken whittled its deficit back a bit on solo jobs by Miller and Gerstenslager in the sixth. The momentum for the tournament's top seed would be short-lived, however, as the Braves answered with four scores in the bottom of the frame, including a RBI single by Denton and a run-scoring triple by Cole.
UNCP will continue its fight through the loser's bracket on Friday when it suits up for a rematch with fourth-seeded Lander at 1:30 p.m. The Bearcats, a 14-9 victim against eighth-seeded Montevallo in the late game on Thursday, posted a 12-3 win over the Braves in Wednesday's opening round.
2013 Peach Belt Conference Tournament Schedule
Wednesday, May 8
No. 7 Georgia College 8, No. 2 Columbus State 5
No. 6 Francis Marion 10, No. 3 Armstrong Atlantic State 2
No. 4 Lander 12, No. 5 UNC Pembroke 3
No. 8 Montevallo 7, No. 1 USC Aiken 4
Thursday, May 9
No. 2 Columbus State 7, No. 3 Armstrong Atlantic State 1 (Armstrong Atlantic State eliminated)
No. 7 Georgia College 5, No. 6 Francis Marion 0
No. 5 UNC Pembroke 14, No. 1 USC Aiken 3 (USC Aiken eliminated)
No. 8 Montevallo 14, No. 4 Lander 9
Friday, May 10
No. 2 Columbus State (28-21) vs. No. 6 Francis Marion (28-19), 10 a.m.
No. 5 UNC Pembroke (37-15) vs. No. 4 Lander (35-15), 1:30 p.m.
No. 8 Montevallo (33-18) vs. Columbus State-Francis Marion winner, 5 p.m.
No. 7 Georgia College (31-17) vs. TBD, 8:30 p.m.
Saturday, May 11
Games at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m., if necessary
Sunday, May 12
Championship game, 1 p.m.