GREENVILLE, S.C. - Despite three hits apiece by Jacob Jaye and Matt Pita, the fourth-seeded VMI Keydets saw their season end with an 11-7 loss to the top-seeded UNCG Spartans in an elimination game Thursday at the 2018 SoCon Baseball Championships, presented by Holston Gases at Fluor Field in Greenville, S.C.
The Keydets (26-27) jumped out to an early 3-0 lead in the first, with Pita and Jaye each driving in runs, but UNCG (38-14) scored five runs in the bottom of the frame to take the lead for good. The Spartans would lead by as many as seven, doing so at 10-3 and 11-4, before VMI staged a last-gasp rally in the ninth.
The Keydets scored three times in that frame against ace UNCG reliever Andrew Wantz, but Wantz struck out fifth-year senior Will Malbon to end the game and send UNCG on to Friday's action.
The winning pitcher was Bryce Hensley (6-2), who settled down and allowed just one run after the first inning - four total - on the way to a seven-inning outing. He gave up nine hits, walked two and struck out seven. Keydets starter Brandon Barbery (3-3) allowed five runs, four earned, and was knocked out after 2/3 of an inning.
Offensively, Pita and Jaye led the way for the Keydets with three hits apiece. Ryan Caveness went 3 for 3 with two RBI and a walk to pace the Spartans.
The Keydets broke through early, scoring three runs in the first. Pita, hitting as just the second batter of the game, singled home Nathan Eaton to give the Keydets a 1-0 lead. Jaye doubled home two more runs later in the inning and VMI had a 3-0 advantage.
UNCG answered in the bottom half of the frame, when Andrew Moritz singled home a run. Tripp Shelton plated a run with an infield out, and Cesar Trejo followed with one of the integral plays of the game. He hit a cue shot up the first base line. Barbery, perhaps the only Keydet who had a play, sprinted over and leaned to try to field it in stride, but couldn't play it cleanly and it went for a RBI, 60-foot single to tie the game.
One batter later, Caveness singled to left to score a run and the ball got under Matt Dunlevy's glove for an error, allowing a second run to score. UNCG then scored once in the second and four times in the third, before Dunlevy plated a run with a ground ball in the fifth to make it 10-4.
A RBI single by Caleb Webster made it an 11-4 contest and that was the score going to the ninth, when Cody Warner plated Jake Huggins with a RBI double. One out later, Pita tripled home Warner and Dunlevy had a sacrifice fly. Peyton Maddox walked, putting the Keydets two hitters away from bringing the tying run to the plate, but Wantz was able to strike out Malbon to end the game.
VMI finished the season with 26 wins, the most by the Keydets since winning 27 in 2011. Pita finished the year with a .721 slugging percentage and 21 doubles, both the third-most in school history, as well as six triples, the second-most in VMI annals. Pita now has 11 career triples, the second-most in VMI history, and is one of only three players in Keydet history to have double digits in that category.
The loss wrapped up the collegiate careers of VMI's nine seniors, among which were long-time catcher Peyton Maddox, all-time school home run leader Collin Fleischer, Dunlevy, Jaye, Malbon and Barbery.