RALEIGH, N.C.—In the first round of the Raleigh regional on Friday, UNC Wilmington lost to second-seeded Vanderbilt and Sacred Heart was outmatched by host North Carolina State to set up an elimination game of the lower seeds on Saturday afternoon.
Despite a losing record, Sacred Heart advanced to its second straight regionals after sweeping the Northeastern Conference tournament in convincing fashion. The Pioneers' postseason run ended Saturday with a 13-4 loss to UNC Wilmington.
After Vanderbilt held the Seahawks to two runs on Friday, UNC Wilmington's offensive attack was the story of the game on Saturday, as the Seahawks pounded 17 hits, including five home runs.
"The coaches have been talking about our approach at the plate and having quality at-bats and we did a great job today," Seahawks sophomore catcher Drew Farber said. "It was a great team effort."
Every member of the Seahawks' lineup collected at least a hit and eight scored at least one run. Five Seahawks had multi-hit games. Each of the Seahawks' third through sixth hitters in the lineup clubbed home runs.
"We had a few good pitches to hit in good hitter's counts and put some good swings on them and we played long ball quite a few times today," senior center fielder Andrew Cain said.
The 6-foot-6 Cain hit his 11th home run of the season on a deep shot to left field. Cain's first hit of the day, a single, was his 200th in this career. He had three hits on the day.
Sacred Heart lefthander Nick Leiningen had been one of the Pioneers' best starters all season and had the lowest ERA on the staff, but the sophomore went only four innings and gave up six earned runs on nine hits. Leiningen is a lean 6-foot-1, 175 pounds and relies on his command and control. Leningen's fastball sat in the 80-82 range in the first inning and he throws a both a slider and curveball.
After getting a double play to end a one-out, two-on threat in the first inning, the offensive fireworks began in the second inning on a home run to left-center field by senior outfielder Thomas Pope. At least one Seahawks hitter reached base in each of Leiningen's four innings of work. In the fourth inning, the Seahawks' top home run hitters, Tyler Molinaro, a 2011 draft pick of the Yankees, and Cain, hit back-to-back home runs to left field. By the fourth inning Leiningen's fastball velocity dissipated to the mid-70s.
Righthander Kody Kerski replaced Leiningen to begin the fifth inning and did not fare much better. Kerski gave the Seahawks a different look and pitched in the upper-80s, but he walked three and surrendered four runs in his three innings. Freshman lefthander Jeff Stoddard entered in the eighth inning facing a 10-4 deficit and Seahawks' catcher Drew Farber hit his first home run of the season to push the lead to 13-4.
After Friday's loss, UNC Wilmington coach Mark Scalf faced a tough decision for who would start the elimination game. Pitching depth has been a strength for the Seahawks this season as the team has a three reliable starters and six quality arms out of the bullpen. Scalf relied on his veterans and gave the ball to senior righthander Travis Bradley. The 6-foot-1, 244 pound Bradley was an unexpected choice because his last start was more than two months ago and he has only thrown 16 innings this season.
"I was a little surprised, but it is an honor to start this game and I always wanted to play in an NCAA regional," Bradley said.
The Raleigh native does not have overpowering stuff and threw his fastball in the 84-86 range but changed speeds well with a 74-76 mph slider and changeup. Bradley competed and showed good command, walking only one Pioneer on the day.
"Coming into today, we knew we had to play clean baseball defensively and fill up the strike zone," Scalf said. "Today, Travis showed folks that he is going to fill the strike zone up."
Bradley registered only one strikeout but consistently induced weak contact from the Pioneer lineup. The Seahawks' defense supported Bradley and played error-free baseball. Third baseman Matt Campbell made three good plays defensively, including a diving stop to his left. Bradley was relieved by righthander Ricky Holden with two outs in the seventh inning. Bradley pitched 6 2/3 innings and gave up four runs.
Holden got four outs and sophomore righthander Justin Livengood retired the Pioneers in the ninth with a low-90s fastball and 78-80 curveball. The Seahawks' pitching staff will be well-rested heading into Sunday's game against the loser of Saturday night's North Carolina State-Vanderbilt matchup.
Coach Scalf said lefthander Mat Batts will pitch Sunday's game. Batts has been the Seahawks' top starter this season and leads the team in ERA and strikeouts and will look to give UNC Wilmington a chance to play for the regional title.