LMU Baseball loses SAC Tournament opener 4-3

FOREST CITY, N.C. – Hard-throwing left-hander Placido Torres stonewalled the fourth-seeded Railsplitters (24-21) over 8 1/3 innings and Vinny Ferrara delivered what proved to be the game-winning hit in the bottom of the sixth inning to lead third-seeded Tusculum (28-16) to a 4-3 win in the opening game of the 2015 South Atlantic Conference Baseball Championship on Friday night at McNair Field in Forest City, N.C.

The loss wasted a brilliant effort from Lincoln Memorial’s sophomore right-hander Brandon Jean (Franklin, Tenn.), who fanned a career-high 11 batters in eight innings of work. Despite relinquishing double-digit hits for the second time this season and the first time since February 28, Jean (4-4) stranded seven Pioneers on base and served up just three earned runs.

The Railsplitters will now be forced to go through top-seeded and No. 5 nationally-ranked Catawba to keep their season alive. The Indians, who swept a three-game set from Lincoln Memorial during the regular season, pummeled Anderson 12-2 in Friday’s opener to advance onto the winner’s bracket in convincing fashion.

As good as Jean was, Torres was marginally better. Tusculum’s All-SAC first team selection limited the Railsplitters to six hits and no earned runs over 8 1/3 innings, striking out nine in the process.

The Railsplitters didn’t lack for scoring chances, though, as Torres walked five and hits two other batters. For the most part, Lincoln Memorial was unable to capitalize on those myriad opportunities, stranding nine on base over the course of the contest.

The visiting unit squandered an early opportunity for a run after Scott Miller (Knoxville, Tenn.) and Logan Augustine (Urbandale, Iowa) were plunked by pitches in consecutive at-bats in the top of the first, putting two on without an out. Torres forced a fly out and a lineout before Miller was picked off by the Tusculum catcher, Jim Tolle, at third.

The Pioneers grabbed a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the second as Tolle led off with a single, advanced to third on Chris Waylock’s double and scored on a sacrifice fly out from Creighton Wilke.

The Railsplitters responded in the top of the third, plating all three of their runs to briefly establish the lead. Jean Rodriguez (Caguas, Puerto Rico) led off with a single and Miller walked in four pitches, setting up an obvious bunt situation for Augustine. He successfully bunted the first pitch of the at-bat and the Tusculum first baseman fielded it, but his throw got away from Waylock at short, scoring Rodriguez. Lincoln Memorial added two more runs on an RBI single by Kyle Floyd (Windsor, Ill.) and a sac groundout from Wes Neiderland (Thompson Station, Tenn.).

That would be the end of the road for the Railsplitters offensively, while Tusculum fought back to tie the game on a pair of hits from John Topoleski. Topoleski trimmed Lincoln Memorial’s lead to 3-2 with a solo home run in the bottom of the third, and then tied the game with a run-scoring single in the fourth stanza.

The Pioneers manufactured the eventual winning run in the bottom of the sixth, as Waylock led off with a single and scored on Ferrara’s base knock.

A late base running blunder proved costly for the Railsplitters. Nick Morabito (Vienna, Va.) walked and Floyd singled to put two runners on with no outs in the seventh, but Morabito was caught snoozing at second and picked off by the Tusculum catcher. Despite that, Floyd still advanced into scoring position via a wild pitch, but a groundout and a strikeout left him stranded there.

Augustine drew a four-pitch walk with one out in the top of the ninth, bringing the potential winning run to the plate and chasing Torres from the game. All-SAC first team reliever Devan Watts was called in and he forced Morabito to bounce into a game-ending 5-4-3 double play on the one and only pitch he threw.

Floyd went 2-for-4 with an RBI to lead the Railsplitters’ offensive attack. Miller was 0-for-2, but reached base three times. Neiderland accounted for LMU’s other RBI.

Waylock, Wilke and Topoleski paced Tusculum with two hits apiece.

Barring inclement weather, the Railsplitters square off against the top-billed Catawba Indians at 3:45 on Saturday at McNair Field. Live stats are available via www.LMURailsplitters.com.

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