RADFORD, Va. - The VMI Keydets put together a ninth-inning rally that got the tying run to the plate, but the Radford Highlanders survived the attempted comeback to take an 8-4 victory in game one of a three-game Big South series Friday at RU Baseball Stadium in Radford, Va. The game was the 2013 conference opener for both schools.
Down 8-3, the first three Keydets (6-13, 0-1 Big South) reached on singles in the ninth to load the bases. Jordan Tarsovich hit into a force play, scoring Ray Lopez to make it an 8-4 contest, and one out later, Rob Dickinson walked to fill up the bases with Keydets once again. Sheldon Shifflett came off the bench to pinch-hit, representing the tying run, but RU (9-7, 1-0 BSC) reliever Daniel Bridgeman struck out Shifflett to end the game and preserve the Highlander win.
Offensively, both teams pounded out 13 hits. Radford shortstop Jeff Kemp reached base in all five of his plate appearances to lead the home team, while the Keydets got a three-hit game from Drew Bryan, saw Lopez run his streak of multi-hit games to three and had Tarsovich extend his hitting streak to nine consecutive contests.
The Keydets jumped in front in the third. Bryan lined a one-out single to center, and Matt Winn followed with a fly ball to right. The long drive appeared to get caught in a crisp wind, sitting between 10 and 12 miles-per-hour, and ended up landing just shy of both the right field wall and outfielder Blake Sipe's glove for a double. Tarsovich followed by fisting a ball into shallow right field, just a few feet inside the foul line, and legging out a RBI double to put VMI up, 1-0. Brandon Angus followed with a RBI groundout to make it a 2-0 contest.
The Keydets added a run in the fourth on Bryan's RBI single, scoring Nick Dwyer to make it 3-0, but the home team came back in the fifth. Kemp led off with a double, and one out later, Ryan Burgess hit a fly ball to deep right that, much as Winn's was, appeared to be aided by the wind. This ball, however, ended up just clearing the glove of a leaping Angus at the wall for a two-run home run, cutting VMI's lead to 3-2.
The Highlanders then tied the game in the fifth. Sipe was hit by a pitch, and two outs later, so was Kemp. That was the end of the night for VMI starter Connor Bach, and Reed Garrett emerged from the Keydet bullpen to face Zach Woolcock. Woolcock won the battle, bouncing a ground ball single through the left side to score Sipe and tie the game, 3-3.
VMI had two on with two outs in the sixth, but could not score. Neither team found the scoreboard again until the seventh, when the first five Radford hitters reached against Garrett, doing so on four singles and a walk. Woolcock had a RBI, bad-hop infield hit that appeared to suddenly bounce four to six feet in the air and deflect off third baseman Lopez, and Burgess tacked on a two-run single to make it 6-3. After a strike out, Alexander Lee had a two-run single to make it an 8-3 game and end Garrett's night. The Keydet bullpen did not allow a run the rest of the way, setting the stage for the ninth-inning drama.
"We battled throughout tonight's game," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "They were able to string some hits together in that seventh inning, going against one of our best. The bottom line is that they beat us, and that's just baseball."
On the mound, Garrett took the loss for the Keydets, as he was charged with five earned runs in 1 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out to in falling to 1-1. Tyler Costello, the RU starter, moved to 2-2 with the victory by throwing seven innings and giving up three runs.
VMI baseball will return to action Saturday, as the Keydets play Radford in a doubleheader at RU Baseball Stadium, with the teams looking to wrap up the conference-opening series before expected rain in the Radford area. First pitch of game one is set for 1 p.m.