The UNCP baseball team got its season underway as the players battered the Rams of Shepherd University on Feb. 2 and 3 on Sammy Cox Field.
The Braves got the series sweep going 10-4, 14-3 and 16-6 in the first three home games. Leading the offensive charge was senior leader, team captain and leadoff man Roberto Rivera. Rivera is the tone setter for the Black and Gold on offense, and his ability to get on base and steal bases is among the top in the conference.
The Braves also have a senior captain on their pitching staff in ace starter Anthony Burke, who finished with an outstanding 11-1 record while posting a 3.49 ERA. In their first game of the season against the Rams, the Braves wasted no time as they managed a 2-0 lead in the very first inning.
They would manage to keep that lead for the rest of the game and go on to beat the Rams by a score of 10-4. Both of the Braves’ senior captains stepped up in this game. Burke got the win after dealing six innings of one-run ball.
Rivera also managed to get a jump-start on the season going 3-5 at the dish and stealing his first bag of the season. Hank Simpson finished off the last three innings and picked up his first save of the season to close the door on Shepherd.
Game two of the three game series had a similar outcome, but with some newer faces getting into the action and carrying the team to a 14-3 victory. Ethan Baucom and Seth Hartings popped out their first long balls of the season while piling up seven RBI’s just between the two of them.
That was all starting pitcher Jordan Toney needed to pick up the win and secure a 2-0 start to the season for the Black and Gold. The 6-foot-4-inch southpaw held the Rams to three runs in five innings with five strikeouts.
Cole Lovin would come into the game to relieve Toney and keep Shepherd guessing. Lovin had his stuff working and missed bats left and right to compile six strikeouts in only three innings of work. Blake Helms got the starting nod in the third and final contest for the Braves, but it was right hander Gunner Deal who came in from the bullpen and stole the show, striking out all but one of the batters he faced in his two innings of work.
All five of Deal’s strikeouts came in a row, as the Rams just couldn’t keep up with the Braves’ pitching unit. However, pitching hit a hiccup in the eighth inning after lefty reliever Thomas Durant gave up five runs while also giving up two long balls in the process. Despite the late charge by the Rams, Pembroke would go on to secure a 16-6 triumph.
“I’m happy the way we played today as far as first weekend, any time you can win three games (against) somebody on the weekend you got to be happy,” Head coach Paul O’Neil said.
After coming one win away from taking the Peach Belt Conference last season before losing to Georgia College, the Black and Gold came into the season as one of the favorites to get back to the title game once again.