Kingsport, Tenn. – The Bryan Lions time was cut short in the 2016 Appalachian Athletic Conference Baseball Tournament on Wednesday at the hands of No. 3 seed Point University (Ga.), a team who caused problems for the Lions in regular season play and administered both losses in tourney action to eliminate the No. 2 seed, 21st ranked, Bryan team.
Earlier in the day, it looked as if the Lions had met the end of their tournament run as Milligan College (Tenn.) took an early lead in the elimination game, but Bryan sparked a late rally that registered four runs and topped the Buffaloes 6-5.
Once again, Bryan found themselves down by a large margin early on without a run to show for as Point controlled an 8-0 advantage through four innings of action. Starting pitcher, Chad Burrows (JR/Nassau, Bahamas), entered for the Lions and took the reigns on the mound, silencing the Skyhawks to no runs through 4.2 innings. This provided the offense an opportunity to cut away at the deficit, and despite exploding for all six of their runs through the final innings, the difference proved too large as Point held onto to win 8-6 and move on to the final championship game on Thursday.
A leadoff double and two consecutive walks in the top of the first set up the Skyhawks for early success. A fly out, single, and fielder's choice was all Point needed to establish an early 3-0 lead.
Even with a pitcher change part way through the bottom of the second, the Skyhawks soared away with one run as a result of an RBI single, bringing the score to 4-0.
The lead was further extended in the bottom of the third with one swing of the bat as the Skyhawk's Juan Reyes clobbered a two-run homerun over the left field fence on a 1-0 count to put Point up 6-0.
The Blue and Gold wrapped up their impressive offensive performance after scoring in four back-to-back innings. The final two runs came in the bottom of the fourth when Point's Bryce Jay singled, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and made his way home on a single up the middle. A double deep down the right field line by Anthony Padron put a runner in scoring position at third, before a sac-fly to right collected the Skyhawks final run, edging their lead out to 8-0.
After a quite fifth inning on both sides, Bryan showed their was still fight left as they cut Point's lead to seven runs in the top of the sixth. With two outs, Preston King (SR/Kingston, Tenn.) stepped to the plate and tallied the Lion's only third hit up to that point, coming in the form of a triple down the right field line. An RBI single to right by Justin Morhardt (SO/Winsted, Conn.) plated King to make it 8-1.
The top of the eighth frame had the fans in Hunter Wright Stadium second-guessing that the game was over as the Lions exploded for four runs on four hits to make it a three-run ballgame. After Evan Speicher (SR/Chattanooga, Tenn.) flied out to right to leadoff for Bryan, King was patient at the plate and drew a walk. Crandon Wallace (SR/Nassau, Bahamas) followed by placing a single thru the hole at second, which set up Morhardt for his 19th double this season and second double on the day as he hit one earlier against Milligan. King and Wallace scored on the play, lowering the margin to five runs, 8-3. Prentice Young (JR/Oak Ridge, Tenn.), who entered as a courtesy runner for Morhardt, advanced to second on a single by Cody Rhinehart (SR/Ooltewah, Tenn.). Rhinehart was relieved of baserunning duties as Tristan Legault (FR/Mascouche, Quebec) entered to pinch run. Legault saw the opportunity, and with a good jump, he advanced to second on a stolen base. Andrew Urbistondo (SR/Stockton, Calif.) connected for a sac-fly to the right field in foul territory, but the throw couldn't be made in time as Young scored and Legault advanced to third. Lake Burris (FR/Chatsworth, Ga.) stepped up to bat for his first plate appearance in the tournament and capitalized with an RBI single thru the hole at shortstop that scored Legault and pulled Bryan within three runs, 8-5.
All riding on their last at-bat in the top of the ninth, the Lions attempted to do just as they had accomplished earlier in the day with a come-from-behind win. Speicher delivered a leadoff single to short to initiate the rally and give Bryan needed momentum. King trailed with a single that advanced Speicher to third and him to second because of Point's throw. The Skyhawks picked up one out with a strikeout, but Morhardt recorded the third single of the inning which scored Speicher and advanced King to third, putting runners on the corners with only one out. All pressure was riding on Rhinehart as he stepped to the plate, but an unfortunate 5-4-3 double play took all hope away at a comeback and sealed an 8-6 win for the Point Skyhawks.
Travis Moore (JR/Hastings, Mich.) started on the mound for the Lions and lasted one inning after surrendered four hits and four runs with two walks and one strikeout to bring his record to 1-3. Zane Glass (SO/Murfreesboro, Tenn.) relieved for 2.1 innings and gave up five hits and four more runs with one walk, before Burrows entered and found success at slowing down Point. Through 4.2 innings, he dished up four hits and no runs while walking two and fanning two.
Morhardt batted in four of the Lions runs while hitting 3-for-5 with one double. King also went 3-for-5 and ended with a team-high two runs scored with one triple. Rhinehart was the only other Lion to compile multiple hits as he was 2-for-5 in the game. Urbistondo and Burris each aided with one RBI, respectively.
Unable to extend their season by means of the tournament, the Bryan Lions hope to earn an a bid to the National Tournament having been ranked 21st in the nation and holding a notable 38-18 overall record.
Point University moves on to the championship game on Thursday at 4pm, being the only team undefeated in the tournament, while Tennessee Wesleyan and Union (Ky.) faceoff at 12pm on Thursday in elimination play.
*Below is a recap of Wednesday's games and Thursday's matchups:
Wednesday, May 11
Game 9 - No. 2 Bryan (38-17) def. No. 7 Milligan (22-31), 6-5 (Milligan eliminated)
Game 10 - No. 1 Tennessee Wesleyan (42-12) def. No. 8 Bluefield (28-30), 10-3 (Bluefield eliminated)
Game 11 - No. 3 Point (30-27) def. No. 2 Bryan (38-18), 8-6 (Bryan eliminated)
Game 12 - No. 1 Tennessee Wesleyan (43-12) def. No. 4 Union (29-26), 16-7
Thursday, May 12
Game 13 - No. 1 Tennessee Wesleyan (43-12) vs. No. 4 Union (29-26), 12 p.m.
Game 14 - No. 3 Point (30-27) vs. Game 13 Winner, 4 p.m.
To watch all of the games live, visit the AAC Digital Network. (Cost: $7.99/game)
Follow along live via live stats and keep up with tournament statistics on the DakStats Page.
For all the information on the tournament, visit the AAC Tournament Page.