HIGH POINT, N.C. - Junior Graham Sullivan hit a two-run home run in the top of the ninth to push VMI to a 5-4 win over High Point in each teams' Big South Conference opener Friday evening at Willard Stadium. The win improves the 30th-ranked Keydets to 17-1 on the season, while the Panthers fall to 12-5.
Sophomore Adam Lopez (3-0), meanwhile, turned in the best performance of his young Keydet career. The right-hander threw 8.1 innings while allowing four runs, three earned, striking out nine without issuing a walk. Relievers Jeremy Brown and Michael Devine came on to record an out apiece, with the latter locking up his second save of the year.
"Adam Lopez did a great job for us tonight," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "He got better as the game went on. I was really proud of our bullpen, with Jeremy Brown coming in getting a punch out, and Michael Devine getting the final out for the save. We knew the ninth inning would be a tough one, and I'm happy those two combined for those two outs. Graham Sullivan had a huge at bat in the ninth to put us up two runs. This was a great Friday night baseball game in conference."
With the game deadlocked at 3-3 since the fifth inning, the Keydets strung together a two-out rally in the ninth. After HPU reliever Al Yevoli retired the first two Keydet hitters in order, senior Tanner Biagini greeted Spencer Andrews (0-1) with his first hit of the contest, a single through the left-side of the infield. Sullivan then stepped up and delivered his second ninth-inning home run in as many games, sending Andrews' 1-2 pitch well beyond the left-field wall to put the visitors in front, 5-3.
Lopez began the ninth on the mound, and after striking out the leadoff hitter, hit Steve Antolik with the next pitch. Brown came on to retire pinch-hitter Sal Pezzino, but allowed a pinch-hit single to Robbie Gilles and an RBI single to leadoff hitter Andrew Bartlett. Devine then came on and got Murray White IV to fly out to center field, wrapping up VMI's seventh straight win.
Sullivan led the Keydet offense by going 2 for 3 with three RBIs, two runs scored and two of VMI's season-high eight walks. Jordan Ballard was 2 for 4, while Sam Roberts was also 2 for 4 with a walk. Bartlett accounted for two of HPU's four RBIs while going 2 for 5, with Max Fulginiti and Mike Mercurio driving in the remaining runs.
HPU reliever Jaime Schultz was the story of the game for the home team, as the freshman reliever blew away his career-long outing by working five scoreless innings, allowing one hit while striking out seven. He came on in relief of Jamie Serber, who allowed three runs on six hits through three-plus innings.
VMI jumped on top 1-0 in the first, when four of the five batters that came to the plate notched hits. Cory Spangenberg extended his hitting streak to 14 games with a single in the inning, then scored on Sullivan's double down the left field-line. The Keydets made two outs on the bases though, as Roberts was picked off and Sullivan was thrown out at home to end the inning.
The Panthers rallied in the second, when Matt Gantner opened the frame with a double into left field and scored on Fulginiti's single. The Keydets plated two in the fourth on Ballard's RBI double and a passed ball, while the Panthers answered in the fifth on back-to-back singles from Mercurio and Bartlett.
The Keydets and Panthers play game two at Willard Stadium on Saturday night, with first pitch set for 6 p.m. Fans can listen to the game online at www.VMIKeydets.com or watch the contest on the Big South Network at www.BigSouthSports.com.
Keydet Quick Hits
- VMI is now 5-0 in one-run games and 4-0 in games tied going into the ninth inning.
- The Keydets have hit home runs in 16 of 18 games this year.
- In the past six games, VMI has allowed 16 runs, posting a 2.52 ERA with opponents hitting .234.
- With nine strikeouts and no walks Friday, Lopez now has 36 strikeouts in 28 innings this season, having walked just four batters.
- This series features the two top hitting teams in the Big South, and two of the top ten offenses in the nation, with each team averaging over 10 runs per game entering the series.
- Sullivan's ninth-inning home run was reminiscent of Jordan Ballard's similar home run two years ago at High Point. In game two of the 2008 series against the Panthers, Ballard hit a three-run home run to left field in the top of the ninth to put VMI on top in a 5-3 win.