NCAA Tournament: Patriots Advance to Regional Championship
MOUNT OLIVE, NC – Playing its third game in less than 24 hours, Francis Marion University rode the strong starting pitching of junior right-hander Don Sandifer to claim a 9-3 victory over second-seeded and second-ranked Tusculum College, Saturday (May 19) night in a semifinal game at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Baseball Tournament.
With the win, its second of the day, sixth-ranked and fourth-seeded Francis Marion (40-17) advances to the regional title game on Sunday at 5 p.m.. The Patriots will face the winner of Tusculum/Catawba College for the right to go to the Division II National Finals in Cary, N.C., May 26-June 2. Tusculum and Catawba will play earlier on Sunday in an eliminaton game at 1 p.m.
This is the fourth 40-win season for the Patriots, including their third-in-a-row, and all have come under the direction of head coach Art Inabinet, who is now three wins shy of 500 for his career. The only previous regional championship for Francis Marion came in 2006.
Sandifer, a pre-season All-American and last year’s Peach Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year, picked up his first win (1-4 record) since last year’s regional tournament – on the same Scarborough Field at Mount Olive College. The Bamberg native allowed three runs on 11 hits with eight strikeouts and two walks in seven innings. Sophomore closer Jeffrey Stoner made his second appearance of the afternoon and pitched two scoreless frames, allowing only one hit.
Sophomore shortstop Michael Wilson led FMU at the plate with a 3-for-5 night that included three runs scored and two driven in. Senior second baseman Brock McCallister (2-for-5), senior designated hitter Brian Paulhus (2-for-4), and junior first baseman Rhodes Dickerson (2-for-5) all had two hits and one RBI apiece. Every Patriot position player recorded at least one hit.
McCallister tied the single-season FMU record for at bats (239), while senior center fielder Buddy Sosnoskie finished 1-for-4 with two runs batted in and tied the team record of 89 hits in a season. Former Patriot shortstop Barrett Kleinknecht set both marks in 2009.
Paulhus and Sosnoskie finished Saturday’s two games with four hits apiece. The Patriots eliminated Lander University 10-3 on Saturday afternoon, after losing to Tusculum 7-2 in the early morning hours of Saturday in a game that started on Friday night at 11:40 p.m.
On Saturday night however, Francis Marion took the early 1-0 lead in its first at bat. Wilson led off with a single to right center and advanced to third when Jarrod Reed’s grounder to first was thrown away at second base – the first of six Tusculum miscues. Wilson came home on Sosnoskie’s RBI fielder’s choice grounder to first, a ball almost identical to Reed’s grounder, which the Pioneers again tried to turn into a double play. Sosnoskie then advanced to third when Tusculum starter Adam Sigmon (8-2) threw away a pick-off attempt at first, but the speedy Patriot was stranded there when Stephen Tarkenton struck out.
Looking to add to their lead, the Patriots registered three singles in the top of the second, but could not push across a second run. Tusculum threatened in their half of the second when designated hitter Heath Comerford earned a two-out walk and catcher Nate Reid singled through the left side, Sandifer recovered to strike out shortstop Tripper Crisson to end the threat.
After stranding another runner in scoring position in the third, the Patriots finally picked up a hit in that situation in the top of the fourth and in the process doubled their advantage to 2-0. Senior left fielder Tyler Boyd reached on a single that he chopper over the third baseman with one out. After stealing second, he came home on Rhodes Dickerson’s long RBI single to right center.
In the Pioneers’ half of the fourth, first baseman Cody Coffman and Comerford both singled, but Sandifer got Reid to ground out to Wilson at shortstop to end the threat. However, Tusculum did get to Sandifer in the fifth frame. Crisson led off with a single, was sacrificed to second, and scored on right fielder Aaron Guinn’s run-scoring single to center. After a double by third baseman Cade Stallings moved Guinn to third, both came home on Coffman’s triple over Sosnoskie in deep center field.
However, Francis Marion responded with four runs in the top of the sixth and regained the lead for good at 6-3. Tarkenton led off with a single up middle, but was erased on Jacob Golliday’s fielder’s choice bunt. Boyd then worked a four-pitch walk, moving Golliday to second, and the Patriot catcher scampered home on Paulhus’ RBI double over third base bag to knot score at 3-3. Wilson plated both Boyd and Paulhus with a clutch two-out, two-run single through right side, and then he advanced to second on an outfield throwing error. McCallister upped the margin to 6-3 with an RBI single down the right field line that scored Wilson and chased Sigmon from the mound.
Sandifer again escaped trouble in the last of the sixth with back-to-back strikeouts that stranded runners on second and third. In the seventh, Sandifer fanned Comerford to end a Pioneer threat that included three singles. Wilson saved one run by spearing one of the singles deep in the hole between short and third and keeping the ball in the infield.
Francis Marion added three insurance runs in the eighth, all coming with two outs. Wilson singled to right field and moved up one base on a passed ball. McCallister singled up the middle and Wilson came home when the ball was kicked away into center field. Reed reached on a bunt hit and Sosnoskie followed with an RBI single to left center. Tusculum reliever Dylan Hochevar tried to pick Sosnoskie off first base but his throw went awry and Reed scored from third.
The Patriots totaled 14 hits and took advantage of four walks from Pioneer pitchers.
When asked about his starter, Inabinet explained "That might have been the best game I've seen Don pitch since he's been here. I am so happy for him. Our bats woke up and we scored some runs. Now we get to play one more game.
“I am proud of all our guys. We won two games on short rest (after losing to Tusculum in a game that ended at 2:15 a.m. on Saturday morning). Hopefully we will have enough to get the job done tomorrow and have a chance to play next week in Cary. We came so close last year."
Sandifer explained, "It's my biggest win here as a Patriot. I wanted to give our team a chance to win. Every situation you go through in your head – what you want to do – and tonight I hit my spots. I wanted to keep the ball in, and if I missed, it would to the inside. They (Tusculum) hit us pretty good last night. We were determined not to make the same mistakes.”
Wilson also said, “We all tried to match Don’s effort. He kept out-doing us position players, so it became a good battle within our squad. Our bats woke up and we were able to give Don something to work with.”
Sosnoskie added, “This has been my favorite two years of my life. I am not worried about any stats (including the hits record) – I couldn’t care less about those as long as we win. We have 25 or 26 guys out here who want to win a championship for coach. We want to get to Cary. We were so close last year, now we want to put everything out there."