FORT MYERS, Fla. – With a strike from shortstop Grant Massey to first baseman Adam Lee to record the final out, the Lipscomb baseball team knocked off top-seed North Florida 8-7 on Saturday night to claim the 2015 Atlantic Sun Championship at Swanson Stadium.
“This group of seniors means so much to me and I wanted it so bad for them,” said Lipscomb head coach Jeff Forehand. “Our coaches did such a great job all year long. I have to give them so much credit and our players played their heart out.”
The Bisons (39-18) fell behind the top-seeded Ospreys in the bottom of the third after touching Lipscomb senior hurler Ian Martinez-McGraw for a trio of runs.
The knuckleballer drew the start on the hill, just three days after throwing 122 pitches in a no-decision effort over Florida Gulf Coast in Wednesday’s tournament opener. He looked sharp early on allowing just one base runner through two frames, but got off to a rough start in the third after walking the bases loaded. A wild pitch, a groundout and a single from first baseman Ryan Roberson put UNF on top 3-0.
The Lipscomb offense fell on hard luck early in the game as well as the Ospreys showed why they are the second-best fielding team in the country by turning an inning-ending double play in each of the first three frames. It was in the top of the fourth when the Bisons finally broke through.
Massey and Jonathan Allison recorded back-to-back hits to set things up for Josh Lee and the senior right fielder singled down the left field line to bring in Massey. Tyson Ashcraft then ripped the fourth-consecutive single for the Bisons to plate Allison and cut UNF’s lead to 3-2.
With freshman catcher Jeffrey Crisan due up, UNF’s skipper Smoke Laval made a mound visit trying to calm Dan Vansickle. During the meeting Lipscomb head coach Jeff Forehand made the decision to pinch-hit redshirt freshman Allan Hooker. The move paid off in a big way as the lefty blasted a go-ahead three-run bomb into the night sky in left centerfield to put the Purple and Gold on top 5-3.
“Hooker has been waiting his turn all year long and when it was his turn he answered,” said Forehand. "He ran into one and hit arguably the best pinch-hit I've had in 20 years of doing this.
“I’m so excited about the team effort and he wasn’t pouting because he wasn’t in there he was just waiting his turn. I’m so happy for him and such a great play."
An inning later freshman Michael Gigliotti drew a leadoff walk and then moved to second on a fielder’s choice from Adam Lee. Massey put Gigliotti just 90 feet from home plate on a sacrifice bunt. Josh Lee then flied out to center and Gigliotti scored to push the lead to 6-3.
The Ospreys refused to quit however and pushed across a tally in the sixth on a sacrifice fly off Nick Andros, who came on to relieve Martinez-McGraw to start the fourth. UNF cut the lead to just a run at 6-5 in the eighth thanks to a Bison miscue, their first of the tournament.
Lipscomb would then turn the tables on the Ospreys in the top of the ninth as Gigliotti raced across the dish when UNF threw a routine ball away at first to make it a 7-5 lead. Adam Lee wound up at second on the play and would come home one batter later when Massey drove in the eventual game-winning run with a single to centerfield.
The bottom of the ninth would have plenty of drama to behold with the Bisons clinging to the 8-5 lead. After getting the first batter to ground out to second, reliever J Hwang hit UNF leadoff man Kyle Brooks setting the table for A-Sun Player of the Year Donnie Dewees.
Hwang got Dewees to ground a chopper in between the mound and first but Hwang misfired past the bag allowing Brooks to score easily and Dewees to wind up on third. A single up the middle would bring Dewees home and make it an 8-7 before a key throw from catcher Chucky Vazquez would be a turning point.
“That is just the way this game goes sometimes,” Forehand said. “We get the best hitter in the league to get a swinging bunt and we throw it down the line and we are thinking, wow, but then what a play by Chucky.”
Hwang lost a breaking ball into the dirt and the ball scooted in front of the plate but Vazquez was able to corral the pitch and throw a laser to second base erasing pinch runner Bubba Olivera and claiming the second out of the inning.
Hwang then got the 6-3 groundout to seal the win and earn the save on the mound for the Purple and Gold.
“It’s only fitting that the last ground ball out goes to the best defensive player in the league and one of the best in the country,” Forehand said. “It was a great way to end it and it just feels so good after all of the hard work everyone put in to get us here.”
Andros picked up the win in the championship to improve to 6-1 on the season. The southpaw and all-tournament team selection went four innings allowing one earned run, three hits and a walk while fanning three.
Joining Andros on the all-tournament team were Allison, who picked up tournament MVP honors, Massey and Brady Puckett.
“It’s just a surreal moment for us because we have all worked so hard to get here,” said Allison. “We talked about it at the beginning of the year that this was our goal. You play like it’s your last game every time. I’m happy it’s not over and we get to continue. Everyone stepped up today.”
The Bisons will host an NCAA selection show party on Monday at 11 a.m. in the Hall of Fame room at Allen Arena on the Lipscomb Campus. The selection show will air on ESPNU.
Around the Horn:
- The win marked the second-ever A-Sun Championship for Lipscomb. In 2008 the Bisons knocked off Gardner-Webb in 15 innings for the first tournament title in program history.
- The Bisons have now won 15-straight games away from Nashville, including 12-straight true road games. Both are tops in the nation.
- Lipscomb outhit UNF 10-8 and with runners in scoring position the Bisons were 4-for-9. The Ospreys finished 2-for-7.
- Gigliotti extended his on-base streak to 30 games.
- Allison and Massey each recorded two hits in the game for their 21st multiple-hit games of the season.
- Going 4-0 in the tournament, Lipscomb improves to 7-0 at Swanson Stadium this season.