ASHEVILLE, N.C. - Graham Sullivan's two-run triple in the eighth inning proved to be the difference, as No. 29 VMI defeated UNC Asheville, 7-5 in Big South Conference baseball action Friday at Greenwood Field. The win improves the Keydets to 21-5 overall and 5-2 in the Big South, while the loss sets the Bulldogs back to 8-15 on the season and 2-5 in league play.
With the game knotted at five, the Keydets pieced together a rally in the top of the eighth. Jacob Morley led off with a base knock before Jordan Ballard drew a two-out walk. Sullivan then delivered a deep shot to center field, chasing home both runners with his second triple of the season.
Keydet reliever Michael Devine came on to slam the door, earning his fourth save of the season by retiring six of the seven batters he faced, with only a fielding error breaking the string. John Garrett (2-0) picked up the win despite allowing his first runs of the season, being charged with two in his 1.2 innings. He worked in relief of Chris Duty, who pitched four shutout innings of relief before running into trouble in the sixth, as Asheville struck for two runs. Keydet starter Adam Lopez also surrendered a run in his only inning of work, leaving the game with an apparent injury.
"I was really impressed with the job that Chris Duty did, coming in on short notice," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "We pulled Adam (Lopez) out after one inning for precautionary reasons. He said his arm was tight, and we didn't want to push it this early in conference play. Our bullpen did a great job to pick us up though. We ran John Garrett out there early, and he did a great job of getting us out of what could have been a big inning in the sixth. Then Michael Devine came on and limited them after they tied the game."
Ballard led the Keydet offense, going 3 for 4 with two RBIs and his 35th career home run. Sullivan and Ombri Rivers were each 2 for 5 with a pair of RBIs, while Morley was 2 for 3 with his Big South-leading eighth sacrifice bunt of the season.
"Jordan Ballard had a great at bat in the third inning to give us the lead," said Ikenberry. "Graham (Sullivan) came through for us again with the huge triple to put us up two. We knew coming into the weekend that we'd have to really battle for runs. I was proud of how we put runners on base all through the middle innings, we just couldn't get that big hit until the eighth."
Dan Weller (0-1) took the loss for the Bulldogs, allowing the two fateful runs in the eighth. Asheville starter Drew Spear was charged five runs in his seven innings, with all of them coming in the third. At the plate, the top four hitters in the Asheville lineup combined for all seven of the team's hits, with Danny Baatz, Catlin Carter and Justin Schumer each collecting a pair. Schumer's fourth-inning double stood as the Bulldogs' lone extra-base hit of the game.
The Bulldogs scratched out a run in the first, when Carter led off with a single and moved around the bases on three wild pitches by Lopez. Duty entered in the second, picking off the only base runner he allowed through his first two innings of work.
VMI, meanwhile, struck in a big way in the third. Sam Roberts tied the game with an RBI groundout that scored George Piccirilli, before the Keydets mounted a two-out rally. Ballard plated two with his Big South-leading 12th home run of the year before Rivers' double down the left field-line plated two more.
Spear blanked the Keydets for the rest of his seven innings, while the Bulldogs struck for two runs apiece in the sixth and seventh. In the sixth, Duty surrendered three consecutive singles to load the bases, then walked in a run. He gave way to Garrett, who retired the next two batters, allowing another run to score on a ground out.
In the seventh, Garrett led off the inning by hitting Cody Buch, then walked Jacob Edwards and allowed a bunt single to Carter. Baatz delivered an RBI single through the left-side to cut the margin to one, before Robert McIntosh hit into a double play that brought home the tying run. That set the stage for VMI's eighth-inning rally, allowing the Keydets to win their seventh-straight weekend opener.
VMI and Asheville conclude their Big South series Saturday, playing a 1 p.m. doubleheader at McCormick Field. Fans can watch the game on the Big South Network, available at www.BigSouthSports.com.
Keydet Quick Hits
- Jordan Ballard's 35th career home run moves the senior into second place by himself on VMI's career home runs chart, just behind Greg Weddle's total of 37.
- VMI is now 17-1 when allowing opponents five runs or fewer and are 17-2 when scoring at least six runs.
- Graham Sullivan leads the team with 15 multiple-hit games this season.