HARDEEVILLE, S.C. - A lost fly ball in the lights sparked a two-run, eighth-inning rally as 15th-ranked South Carolina Beaufort raced away from No. 5 Faulkner 7-3 here Friday night, eliminating the top-seeded Eagles from the NAIA Baseball National Championships Opening Round.
Faulkner, which lost both its games in the Hardeeville Bracket, took a 3-2 lead into the eighth before things came unraveled. A one-out double by the Sand Sharks' Ty Main off of Eagles' starter Corey Black
was followed by the most bizzare play of the night. Pinch-hitter Brandon Collins lifted a high fly ball down the left-field line that Faulkner leftfielder Tucker Willard
never picked up off the bat, and when he finally retrieved the ball the game was tied and Collins was standing at third with a triple.
Another pinch hitter, Blake Cilwick, then singled up the middle with infield in to put USC Beaufort ahead to stay 4-3. Faulkner's Ray Johnson
doubled to open its half of the eighth, but Sand Shark reliever Colton Rudd then struck out the side to end the threat. USCB ended any doubt with a three-run ninth inning, thanks in part to four walks issued by a trio of Eagle relievers.
Rudd provided an explanation in the bottom of the ninth, again striking out the side as the Sand Shark faithful boisterously offered their approval. For the game, Rudd and starting pitcher Galvin Miles combined to strike out 16 Faulkner batters, a season high for the Eagles. Miles, making only his fifth start of the season, threw 144 pitches, allowing all three Faulkner runs to improve to 6-0. Black lost for only the second time all season, dropped to 11-2 for the Eagles.
For Faulkner, its Southern States Athletic Conference regular season championship season comes to a close with a record of 48-13. The loss marks the end of collegiate careers for 16 Eagle seniors and, most likely, for Black, who is just a junior but expected to be picked early in this summer's amateur baseball draft.
The Sand Sharks (37-17) advance to take on Union (Tenn.) in another elimination game Saturday morning at 11. The winner must then beat undefeated St. Thomas (Fla.) twice to win the bracket. The winner advances to the Avista-NAIA World Series May 25-June 1 in Lewiston, Idaho.
"All of these guys have meant so much to me personally and to this baseball program," Faulkner head coach Patrick McCarthy
. "I love each and every one of them. Things didn't go well here this week, but when the pain wears off we'll all realize what a great season we had and embrace it. Our staff will work hard to put a team together to give us another chance to make a run in the future."
The Sand Sharks got to Black early, with David O'Neil and Dylan Nasiatka both singling with one out in the top. An out later, USC Beaufort designated hitter Conald Mansfield lifted a fly ball down the left-field line that fell in for a two-run double, staking the tournament hosts to a 2-0 advantage.
Faulkner cut the lead in half in the bottom of the inning when leadoff hitter Brook Boudreaux
pounded a long home run over the left-center field wall. The Eagles drew even in the third, with Craig Massey
's single scoring Boudreaux to tie the game at 2.
The Eagles grabbed the lead iin the bottom of the seventh when, with the bases loaded, Willard scored on a Galvin wild pitch. Faulkner could do no further damage, setting the stage for the Sand Shark rally in the eighth.