The UNCP baseball team was able to salvage a win in the final game of their weekend Peach Belt Conference series with the Night Hawks of North Georgia thanks in large part to the significant contributions they got from their graduating class. The Braves’ seniors showed up and showed out on Senior Day in front of family, friends and a whole flock of Black and Gold faithful at Sammy Cox Field on Sunday for an 18-6 victory.
“We have eight seniors on our ball club and for them to go out with a win on Senior Day is definitely something very special,” said Head Coach Paul O’Neil.
The threat of rain shuffled the games around this past weekend and moved their Friday’s game one to Saturday for a doubleheader and forced Sunday’s game three up by nearly three hours to a 9:30 start. After dropping the first two games of the series on day one the Braves looked like a different team on Sunday morning.
After the Night Hawks climbed on the board first with a solo homer in the top of the first inning, it was all UNCP the rest of the way. The Braves would record a season-high 24 hits and tripled the number of runs by No.8 ranked North Georgia who sits atop of the conference standings with 18 through eight innings.
Aside from giving up the solo homer in the opening frame, senior right-handed pitcher Nile Ball was a stud on the mound as the Braves’ offense got going. The home team held a one-run lead through five innings at 5-4 before their offense erupted at-bat in the bottom of the sixth for eight runs to take a commanding 13-4 lead.
“Nile [Ball] did a great job for us out there, he went seven strong innings for us. He pitched around one big jam that we kind of caused ourselves, but he kept his composure and did a great job. I can’t say enough good things about Nile [Ball] and what he did today,” said O’Neil.
Each of the first eight batters safely reached their bases and the team sent a dozen batters to the plate during the frame which. The explosive inning for the Black and Gold was highlighted by a trio of home runs which included back to back homers by infielders Ethan Baucom and Luke Jackson.
Other seniors that stood out were Elijah Helton who registered a game-high five hits and scored a game-high three runs, Jackson who in addition to his homer recorded two more hits and a pair of RBIs and Kevon Perkins who scored a pair of runs and recorded a hit and an RBI as well.
“Everybody in the lineup got a hit,” said O’Neil. “I think guys were a little more relaxed today. I think it was a thing where it is Senior Day and they wanted to perform…and you always want to perform on Senior Day. I’m really proud that those eight seniors get to go out with a victory.”
The victory marked the third for the Braves over a top five nationally ranked team on the year and snapped a three-game losing streak. They are still on the outside looking in on the playoff standings and could be mathematically eliminated if they don’t get some help from some of the other basement dwellers of the conference, but O’Neil says that his team is only focused on the road ahead no matter how long or short it might be.
“We might be mathematically eliminated. I’m not sure how it is right now but I’m happy the way we played today,” said O’Neil. “We’re going to push and keep pushing and try to win every single baseball game that we play the rest of the way.”