Diamond Bishops Fall to LaGrange in USA South Tourney Championship

2018 N.C. Wesleyan Baseball Team
2018 N.C. Wesleyan Baseball Team

LaGrange, Ga. - N.C. Wesleyan's run in the 2018 USA South Baseball Tournament came to an end in Saturday's championship game as LaGrange ended the Bishops' season by a 12-7 score. Both of Wesleyan's losses came to the Panthers, who clinched their second straight tourney title on their home field.

LaGrange (26-15) jumped out to a quick 3-0 lead in the first, but NCWC countered by plating four of their own in the second to take a brief 4-3 lead. The Bishops, who had just one hit in the inning, capitalized on two Panther errors to erase the deficit. Unfortunately, LaGrange answered with two in their half of the frame to climb back on top for good, with a 4-run fourth putting some distance between them and the visitors.

Two more runs in the sixth later extended the LC lead to 11-4, but senior Caleb Narron's bases loaded double in the seventh plated three Bishop runs. Wesleyan, however, would get no closer than 11-7 as the Panthers scratched another run in the eighth to seal the 5-run victory. Junior Nate Gardner took the loss pitching on short rest, but still garnered All-Tournament honors at designated hitter after battling a solid .300 over five games. Brandon Wheat, Logan Andrews, and Cedrick Kornegay each had two hits in the title game.

NCWC reached the championship game via an impressive run that began on Wednesday with a 4-2 win over 4th-seeded Huntingdon, and the 5th-seeded Bishops followed that up with 2-1 win over top-seeded Methodist on Thursday to secure a spot in Friday's first semifinal. Two quality starts were the story for the Bishops in those two games as Wesleyan got a complete-game performance from Gardner versus Huntingdon and 8 1/3 innings from freshman Drew Tubb against the Monarchs. Tubb, in fact, joined Gardner on the All-Tournament team for his performance against the nationally-ranked Monarchs.

After falling to 6th-seeded LaGrange by a 12-3 score in Friday's first game, the Bishops faced off with the 2nd-seeded Lions of Piedmont College in an elimination game Friday night. NCWC jumped out to a 6-0 lead in the first two innings, only to see Piedmont slowly chip away. Sophomore Luke Mills pitched admirably out of the pen, tossing six innings and holding the Lions in check for the most part. PC's Brady Ballstadt, however, completed the Lion comeback with a two-run homer in the eighth that knotted the score at 6-6.

Piedmont proceeded to escape a jam in the 9th, then loaded the bases with two outs against Brad Pennington in their at-bat. With the winning run just 90 feet away and facing a 3-2 count, Pennington registered a strikeout looking to end the threat and force extras. A Kornegay RBI-single put the Bishops on top for good in the tenth, while a wild pitch and RBI-double by Pennington gave NCWC a 9-6 lead. Pennington (1-0) then escaped a final Piedmont threat in the bottom of the frame to send 5th-seeded Wesleyan to Saturday's championship.

In addition to Gardner and Tubb, sophomore Alec Titmus also earned All-Tournament accolades at shortstop. Wesleyan ends the season with a 22-23 overall record and says farewell to seniors Garrison Vick, Austin King, Zach Byers, and Narron.

The entire 2018 USA South All-Tournament team in baseball is as follows:

1B – Jack Layrisson, LaGrange (Most Valuable Player)
2B – Dawson Weaver, LaGrange
SS – Alec Titmus, N.C. Wesleyan
3B – Tucker Criswell, Methodist
OF – Jacob Gassert, LaGrange
OF – Brady Ballstadt, Piedmont
OF – Jabin Smith, Piedmont
DH – Nate Gardner, N.C. Wesleyan
P – Drew Tubb, N.C. Wesleyan
P – Gibson Bittner, LaGrange