COLUMBUS, Ga. - Third-ranked Faulkner rode a grand slam by Matt Parker and strong pitching from Corey Black to an 11-4 victory over Belhaven here Thursday afternoon in the opening round of the Southern States Athletic Conference baseball tournament at Golden Park.
The top-seeded Eagles (45-9) never trailed, and Black was dominant early en route to his 11th victory in 12 decisions. Faulkner advances in the winners' bracket and will face No. 20 Shorter Friday afternoon at 3. The eighth-seeded Blazers (32-23) look to stay alive in the double-elimination tournament Friday morning when they face Southern Poly at 9.
The decisive inning came in the fifth when, with a run already in, Parker took an 0-2 pitch over the wall in rightfield with the bases loaded to give Faulkner a seemingly comfortable 7-1 lead. The Blazers battled back however, chasing Black in the seventh, before the Faulkner bullpen stopped the bleeding.
Black, named the SSAC's pitcher of the year, took an 8-2 lead into the bottom of the seventh but a pair of walks and two hits resulted in two runs, and the junior righthander was pulled after throwing 116 pitches. Inheriting runners at first and second, Cory Hamilton got out of the jam by coaxing a pair of fly ball outs.
Brook Boudreaux, Tucker Willard, Craig Massey and Brennan Olive opened the eighth with singles, pushing across two insurance runs for the Eagles. Boudreaux's run-scoring double stretched the lead to seven in the top of the ninth, and reliever Joey Grzywacz pitched around trouble in a scoreless ninth to nail down Faulkner's 21st win in a row, the longest current winning streak in the country. Belhaven was the last team to beat Faulkner, way back on March 17.
"The best we've looked at the plate all year, without a doubt," said Faulkner head coach Patrick McCarthy, whose Eagles pounded out 14 hits, including four of the extra-base variety. "It's the perfect time for the bats to come around. Let's hope it continues."
Faulkner got on the board in the second, with Daniel Cayton's double scoring Zak Colby with the game's first run. A John Gunnel's sacrifice fly later in the inning handed Black and the Eagles a 2-0 advantage.
Belhaven cut the lead in half in the fourth without the benefit of a hit. Jason Hicks reached on a Massey error, advancing to second base. Hicks advanced to third on a long fly out and scored on a ground out to trim the Faulkner lead to 2-1, setting the stage for Parker's heroics two innings later.