Keydets Fall in Season Opener to UNC Wilmington, 5-3
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WILMINGTON, N.C. – Corey Dick singled home two runs in the seventh inning to break a 3-3 tie and help the UNC Wilmington Seahawks over the VMI Keydets, 5-3, in non-conference NCAA baseball action Friday night in Wilmington, N.C. The game was the season opener for both clubs and the second game of the four-team Hughes Bros. Challenge, a weekend round-robin tournament at UNCW’s Brooks Field.

With the game tied 3-3 in the seventh, UNCW (1-0) shortstop Terence Connelly drew a leadoff walk against VMI’s Rian Ellis. After a sacrifice bunt, Luke Dunlap hit a ground ball in the hole between third base and shortstop. Third baseman Thomas Stallings cut the ball off while going to his left, but it popped out of his glove for an error, loading the bases. Dick then followed with a two-run, first pitch single to give the Seahawks a lead they would not relinquish, 5-3.

Brandon Angus led the way offensively for VMI, going 3 for 5 out of the cleanup slot, while Red Dowdell went 2 for 3 and reached base four times. Reed Garrett pitched five innings and did not allow an earned run, while Berkley Hawkins pitched 2/3 of an inning in his first collegiate pitching outing and Jonathan Kelley retired one hitter in his hometown.

The Keydets took four hit by pitches and outhit UNCW 9-5, but stranded 13 runners in the loss.

VMI struck first on the cool evening, doing so against last year’s CAA Pitcher of the Year Mat Batts. Angus led off the second with a single to right. One out later, Gary LeClair dropped a bunt single down the third base line and Dowdell followed with an inside-out double to left, scoring Angus to put the Keydets up, 1-0. Batts struck out the next two hitters, however, and the Seahawks answered in the second.

With one out, Andy Austin walked and Nick Monroe followed with a single, putting runners at the corners. Garrett struck out Drew Farber and induced a ground ball to short from Connolly that appeared to be an inning-ending fielders’ choice, but Ray Lopez threw the ball wildly to second base for an error, allowing Austin to score and tie the game. A wild pitch scored Monroe, and Stephen Linkous followed with an infield single to make it a 3-1 game. All three runs in the inning were unearned.

The Keydets came back in the fourth, when LeClair drew a leadoff walk and Dowdell was plunked by a pitch. After a sacrifice bunt, Stallings laid down a bunt single past Batts, scoring LeClair to cut the Keydet deficit to 3-2. Once again, however, Batts eluded further trouble as he struck out Jordan Tarsovich and got Lopez to pop out to second base.

VMI, however, tied the game in the fifth. Will Connerley was hit by a pitch and Angus singled, putting two on with none out. Mayers followed with a bunt down the third base line. UNCW third baseman Ryan LaGrange fielded the ball and made a strong throw to first, but the ball popped out of the second baseman’s glove for an error to load the bases. One out later, Dowdell was drilled by a Batts fastball to knot the score, 3-3. Batts retired Stallings and Cameron Walter to end the inning, and that would be the final run until the deciding tallies in the seventh.

The Keydets seemingly threatened in the seventh, when Eric Mayers laced the ball down the left field line for an apparent double. After getting the ball back, UNCW reliever Ricky Holden stood between the mound and first base for several seconds, appearing to get instructions from the dugout. He then lobbed the ball to Dick covering first base and Mayers was ruled out for missing the base, ending the threat.

After the home team took the lead, the Keydets put together another rally in the eighth. Dowdell led off with a single and two outs later, Tarsovich followed with one of his own. Lopez then walked to load the bases, but Connerley struck out to end the inning. That would be the final Keydet runner in scoring position as UNCW closed out the victory in the ninth.

“I thought we did a great job competing and gave ourselves chances to win,” said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. “In the innings they scored, two things happened: We walked guys and we made errors behind our pitchers. In the seventh inning before Dick’s single, we told Ellis to pitch away to get a ground ball. He did, but it was up just enough and Dick hooked it through the four-hole at second base. I thought Ellis did a great job, as did Berkley Hawkins in his first career appearance. It was also good to see Jonathan Kelley get an out in the eighth in his hometown. I thought we put a lot of pressure on UNCW tonight, they just did what they had to do to keep us from putting together that one big inning we needed. Hitting with runners in scoring position was the difference tonight, but that will come with time.”

Ellis (0-1) took the loss for the Keydets, as he was charged with two runs in two innings, and Holden (1-0) picked up the win for UNCW with two hitless innings. Neither starter figured in the decision, despite Batts’ nine strikeouts in five innings and Garrett holding the Seahawks to four hits in five frames.

VMI baseball will return to action Saturday, taking on top-ranked Virginia at noon in Wilmington.