MONTGOMERY, Ala. – Faulkner won its first-ever Southern States Athletic Conference regular season baseball championship here Friday, sweeping 15th-ranked Shorter 5-1 and 4-2 in front of a boisterous crowd at Harrison Field.
En route to the SSAC title, the fifth-ranked Eagles pushed their winning streak to 20 games and capped off the regular season with a 44-9 overall record. Faulkner finished its SSAC slate with a 27-3 mark, out-distancing third-ranked Lee in the race for the league crown.
Faulkner's last loss came on March 17, when SSAC foe Belhaven beat the Eagles 5-2 in the first game of a Saturday doubleheader.
"I'm so proud of these guys and so happy for Faulkner University," said head coach Patrick McCarthy, who is in his fourth season at the helm after piloting the Freed-Hardeman program for five years. "This is not only our first conference championship here, it's my first one as a coach. And, to be honest with you, it's pretty emotional."
After cruising to victory in the opener, the Eagles had to battle from behind in the nightcap. The Hawks (35-15 overall, 20-10 SSAC) scored twice in the top of the fifth inning to take a 2-0 lead behind starter Stuart Charleston, who allowed only one hit through four innings.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, however, Faulkner began to reach the junior righthander. Matt Parker and Daniel Cayton both singled with one out, and Matt Darr's RBI single one out later brought the Eagles to within a run.
An inning later Faulkner took control. Tucker Willard opened with a triple and scored on Craig Massey's single. After Brennan Olive bounced into a double play, Zak Colby and Parker had back-to-back singles, setting the stage for Cayton's two-run, game-deciding double that put the Eagles on top for good.
Starter and winner Damon Porter (6-0), who won key SSAC series-ending games the past two weekends, allowed eight hits in eight innings of work and struck out six along the way. Zach Sterling pitched a scoreless ninth, retiring all three batters he faced.
"This team continued to do what it has done all season long, and that's play good, sound fundamental baseball," McCarthy said. "Porter was great again, and Sterling was lights out. This team is so mature, and never gives in. How we won the deciding game today speaks volumes. Coming from behind to beat a Shorter team that we feel is the best club we've played all year does nothing but continue to build our confidence."
Parker, Cayton and Willard all had two hits in the Game 2 victory.
In Game 1, junior righthander Will Dismukes scattered four hits in seven innings for the complete-game victory, improving his record to 9-1 on the season. The Eagles never trailed, grabbing the lead in the bottom of the third when Brennan Olive's sacrifice fly scored Willard, who had opened the inning with a double.
"He's a No. 1 caliber pitcher who is pitching in our two slot, and that says a lot about our staff," McCarthy said. "He's shown great determination in the biggest spots in the biggest games. He's really had a remarkable year."
Parker helped push the lead to 2-0 when, after drawing a walk, he stole second and third before scoring on John Gunnels' infield grounder. Zak Colby's two-run double in the fifth stretched the margin to 4-0, and both teams traded runs in the sixth for the final count.
Willard was the only Eagle with two hits, while Colby drove in a pair of runs to pace the Faulkner attack.
were honored after the doubleheader.
Faulkner travels to Columbus, Ga., next week to compete in the SSAC Tournament at Golden Park. The top-seeded Eagles will play No. 8 seed Belhaven Thursday at noon central time.