HIGH POINT, N.C. - A heroic comeback went for naught for No. 30 VMI, as the Keydets fell behind by nine runs in the second inning, came back to take the lead in the ninth but fell, 15-14 to High Point in Big South Conference baseball action Sunday at Willard Stadium. The loss drops the Keydets to 18-2 overall and 2-1 in the Big South, while the Panthers improve to 13-6 on the year and 1-2 in league play.
Trailing 11-2 in the second, VMI posted a run in the third and two runs apiece in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings to bring the margin to 13-9 going to the ninth. The Keydets loaded the bases against HPU closer Mikel Rodenberg (1-1) to open the inning and Jacob Morley's fielder's choice plated the first run of the rally. After a strikeout notched the inning's second out, Sam Roberts delivered an RBI double to put the tying run at second base. Freshman Cory Spangenberg then collected his first hit of the day, a single through the right-side of the infield that plated both Morley and Roberts to tie the game. Tanner Biagini followed with an RBI double down the left-field line, giving VMI an improbable 14-13 lead.
The Panthers had another say, however, with a two-out rally of their own. Keydet reliever Michael Devine (3-1) retired the first two batters of the inning, but issued a walk to Nate Roberts and an infield single to Kyle Mahoney. HPU then executed a double steal, and pinch-hitter Robbie Gilles delivered the game-winning knock, a single through the left-side of the infield, capping the comeback.
"I was proud of the way our guys fought back today," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "It was a crazy baseball game. Our guys showed a lot of guts to come back from nine runs down. I thought Alan Watts did a superb job today in the middle innings. Mike Devine got two quick outs, but give their hitters credit, they strung together a couple of late at bats to beat us. It's always good to win two of three on the road in this conference, though."
Rodenberg took the win after blowing the save, allowing five runs on four hits in 1.2 innings. He was one of six HPU pitchers that combined to surrender 12 walks, with starter Jared Avidon issuing seven alone. Avidon lasted 4.1 innings, allowing seven runs on six hits, punching out two.
Reliever Alan Watts was the top hurler for the Keydets, as the sophomore worked a career-long 4.2 innings, allowing just one run on four hits. He came on after Roberts and Travis Thomas were tagged for 11 runs in the first 1.1 innings, allowing eight hits while hitting three Panthers. Devine worked the final 2.1 innings, with the only runs he allowed coming on the last swing of the game.
Each of the top four hitters in the VMI lineup drove in multiple runs, as Roberts (3 for 4, 2 RBIs), Spangenberg (1 for 3, 2 RBIs), Biagini (2 for 5, 2 RBIs) and Graham Sullivan (2 for 6, 3 RBIs) combined for nine runs scored and nine RBIs. Rob Dickinson drove in two more for the Keydets, while Jordan Ballard, Alex Haitsuka and Steele Myers also had two hits apiece. Each Keydet starter had a hit, while eight of the nine scored a run, though the team left a season-high 17 men on base in the loss.
The Panthers were led by the fourth and fifth hitters in the lineup, as Mahoney and Matt Gantner each went 3 for 4, combining for six runs scored. Steve Antolik went 3 for 4 with four RBIs, while Nate Roberts was 2 for 4 with a double and a home run, scoring three times.
Avidon walked each of the first four batters of the game before settling in to retire the next three hitters to trail just 2-0. The Panthers answered back immediately in the bottom of the inning. Roberts retired the first two hitters, but allowed each of the next eight to reach base, leaving the game trailing 7-2 without recording a third out. HPU tacked on four more in the second against Thomas before Watts came on to record the final two outs of the frame.
VMI scratched together a run in the third when Sullivan scored on a Dickinson ground out, but gave it back on when Antolik singled home Mahoney in the bottom-half. A Sullivan two-run home run in the fourth cut the deficit to 12-5, while Watts found his rhythm to put zeroes on the board in the next three innings. VMI, meanwhile, got RBI singles from Myers and Roberts to make it a five-run contest in the fifth before cutting it to 12-9 in the seventh when Biagini plated a run and scored another.
HPU leadoff hitter Pablo Rosario then led off the seventh with a home run off of reliever Jeremy Brown, pushing the margin back out to four runs. Neither team scored in the eighth, setting the stage for both teams' ninth-inning heroics.
The Keydets return to action on Wednesday evening, taking on James Madison in Harrisonburg at 6:30 p.m. The game will be carried on the VMI Sports Network, available at www.VMIKeydets.com.
Keydet Quick Hits
- Cory Spangenberg extended his hitting streak to 16 games with his ninth-inning single.
- The loss was VMI's first on the road this season, as the Keydets entered the day as one of just two teams in the nation that had played five road games to remain undefeated away from home.
- At 18-2, the Keydets are tied for the second-most wins in the country entering Monday's play.
- The loss concludes a week during which the Keydets swept two games at The Citadel, who turned around to sweep a series at preseason SoCon favorites Elon, and won two of three at High Point, who was coming off a win over #16 East Carolina.
- The loss also ended VMI's eight-game winning streak, which was tied for the fifth-longest current streak in the nation entering Sunday.
- VMI is still off to its best start in school history, besting the 16-4 mark the 2007 team posted through 20 games.
- The Keydets have hit home runs in 18 of their 20 games this season.