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TIGERVILLE, S.C. – The eighth-ranked Columbus State University baseball team is headed back to the Division II World Series after a pair of wins over No. 13 Belmont Abbey on Monday. The NCAA Southeast Regional was played at North Greenville University.
Columbus State (45-13) won a 5-0 thriller in 12 innings to start the day and followed it up with a 10-7 win in the nightcap to capture the Southeast Region championship. The Cougars will make their eighth World Series appearance and first since 2007.
“We tried to take it one game at a time today knowing that we had to win two,” head coach Greg Appleton said. “We had so many guys dig down deep and come up huge and that’s what you have to have to win this region.”
The World Series is scheduled for May 26 through June 2 at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C.
In a game that will go down as an all-time classic, the Cougars outlasted Belmont Abbey in Monday’s opener.
Neither team scored through the first 11 innings of the contest, before the Cougars broke through in the 12th.
Belmont Abbey threatened in the fifth, loading the bases with nobody out. However, Kolton Ingram got a strikeout and a line drive double play to keep the game scoreless. In the ninth, the Crusaders had runners on second and third with two outs, trying to walk off with the title. It was Jalen Latta though that buckled down, getting a strikeout of his own to send the game to extra innings.
The Cougars wiggled off the hook again in the 10th, as BAC had the bases loaded again, this time with two outs. Sheridan Coy entered the game and immediately fell behind the hitter 3-0. With the Cougars just one ball from elimination, Coy fired in three straight strikes to punch out the hitter and keep the game going.
CSU got a double play in the 11th to stop another scoring chance, before finally getting rolling offensively.
Austin Pharr beat out a groundball to first base to lead off the 12th. Turner Vincent then laid down a bunt and reached safely as the throw to first was wide. Robert Brooks put down a bunt of his own and the throw to first went down the right field line allowing both runners to score.
Frank Wager kept the rally going with a RBI double to right that scored Brooks. Gunar Drinnen then lifted a run-scoring double of his own to right-centerfield to make it 4-0. Garrett Kirkwood capped the five-run inning with a bunt that scored Drinnen.
Coy (2-0) then retired the Crusaders in order in the bottom half of the frame to force the decisive final game.
The Cougars jumped on the board right away in the winner-take-all game, scoring a pair in the bottom of the first. Brooks dropped a single into right-center with the bases loaded to give CSU an early 2-0 advantage.
A solo homer from BAC cut the lead in half in the third, but the Cougars answered right back.
Grant Berry led off the third with a double and Kirkwood followed with a bunt. The Crusaders again sent the throw down the line on the bunt, allowing Berry to score and Kirkwood to end up on third. Mason McClellan rifled a single into the outfield to bring Kirkwood home and Chase Brown launched a two-run homer to give the Cougars a 6-1 advantage.
Columbus State tacked on another in the fourth with a sacrifice fly from Kirkwood, but Belmont Abbey came roaring back.
The Crusaders picked up a three-run triple in the fifth that cut the margin in half, before a solo home run in the sixth made it just a two-run game.
CSU got two of the runs back in the bottom of the sixth, as Berry crushed a two-run shot over the wall in right-center. However, BAC had one more push left in it.
Belmont Abbey put two runs up in the eighth and had the tying run at the plate in a 9-7 game, when the Cougars turned to T.J. Clark out of the bullpen. The right-hander came in and immediately put out the fire with a strikeout to bring the Cougars within three outs of a title.
Pharr tacked on some insurance in the bottom of the eighth with a single through the drawn-in infield to score McClellan. Clark then retired the side in order in the ninth to send the Cougars to the World Series.