LEXINGTON, Va. (www.BigSouthSports.com) - Radford starter Eddie Butler tossed seven scoreless innings and closer Abram Williams picked up his Big South single-season record 17th save as the No. 6 seeded Highlanders defeated No. 7 seed VMI, 3-1, in Game 1 of the 2011 Royal Purple Big South Baseball Championship presented by Triangle Rent A Car, May 24 at Gray-Minor Stadium. With the victory, Radford improves to 31-23 and advances to the main double-elimination bracket of the tournament. The Highlanders will play either No. 1 seed Coastal Carolina or No. 2 seed Liberty on Wednesday, depending on the outcome of tonight's Game 2 between No. 5 Gardner-Webb-No. 8 High Point.
The loss brings to the end the careers of a senior class that included shortstop Sam Roberts, the career hits, runs scored and walks leader at the Institute, as well as catcher Alex Haitsuka and outfielder Graham Sullivan. VMI's season ends at 27-24-1.
Radford scored first with a run in the bottom of the first. The Highlanders opened with three consecutive singles from Matt Hillsinger, Zach Costello and Alex Guerra to load the bases. VMI starter Jason Farley struck out Matt Mack for the first out, and then fanned Carl Travers, but a wild pitch on the strikeout allowed Hillsinger to score before Costello was caught in a rundown trying to advance and ended the inning.
VMI had two early chances to score. In the first, Sam Roberts opened the game with a double off the wall in right center and reached third on George Piccirilli's sacrifice fly to right, but Butler fanned Alex Haitsuka to end the inning. In the second, the Keydets' Jacob Morley reached on a ground-rule double and moved to third on Justin Topping's sacrifice. Butler again escaped unscathed by striking out Rob Dickinson and Chase Worthington to end the threat. It started a string of seven consecutive batters retired by Butler, who recorded four strikeouts in the span.
In the fourth, Radford went ahead 2-0 on Jake Taylor's RBI double to the gap in right-center that scored Travers, who opened the inning with a single. The next frame, Hillsinger tripled off the wall in right field to open the bottom of the fifth and later scored on Guerra's fielder's choice groundout to go up, 3-0, which was enough to chase Farley.
VMI got on the scoreboard in the top of the ninth when Haitsuka belted a two-out solo home run off Williams over the leftfield scoreboard to make it 3-1. Williams induced Morley into a ground out to end the game.
Butler improves to 9-2 on the year. He allowed just five hits in his seven innings and fanned seven hitters. Williams allowed a walk and home run in his inning of work for the record-setting save. Farley drops to 4-8 after allowing nine hits and three runs in 4.2 innings. He walked one and struck out five.
Hillsinger led Radford with three hits, while Mack and Taylor had two hits apiece. Haitsuka had two of VMI's six hits on the day.
Radford's victory marks the fifth-straight year the No. 6 seed has advanced to the main bracket since the Tournament expanded to eight teams in 2007.
Radford Head Coach Joe Raccuia
"It keeps us alive to be able to accomplish what we set out to accomplish, which is win a Big South Championship, which is the only reason we play. We're still alive and I think both of these teams are better than teams that should be playing in an elimination game - these are two decent baseball teams that played a game and we're glad we could move on."
VMI Head Coach Marlin Ikenberry
"I thought our guys fought hard the entire game, but you have to tip your cap to Eddie Butler. He pitched a great game, and they played defense well throughout."