AUM takes conference title; Faulkner wins series
Auburn Montgomery started fast and hung on for a 6-3 victory in the first game of a doubleheader here Friday afternoon, allowing the Warhawks to capture the Southern States Athletic Conference championship. Faulkner rebounded in Game 2, blasting AUM 17-4 to take two-of-three games in the regular season-ending series at the AUM Baseball Complex.
Both teams will compete in next week’s SSAC tournament at Montgomery’s Paterson Field. Faulkner (42-12 overall, 24-6 SSAC) will be the second seed in the double-elimination event and will play at 4 p.m. Wednesday, while AUM (36-16 overall, 25-5 SSAC) will be the top seed and play at 7 p.m. Wednesday night.
AUM jumped all over Faulkner starter Victor Arche in the championship-deciding first game. Six of the first seven Warhawk batters got hits, and before the dust settled the Eagles found themselves in a 3-0 hole. Matt Miller, Dalton Kelley and Blake Barrow drove in the first-inning runs for AUM, chasing Faulkner starter Victor Arche.
Cody Sos’ sacrifice fly in the second inning scored Dennis Morton to trim the deficit to 3-1, but the Warhawks answered in a big way in the bottom of the third. AUM opened the frame with a pair of hits off of Eagles’ reliever Julian Esquibel. Blake Barrow welcomed Faulkner’s third pitcher of the game - Brian Bass - with another single to load the bases. A passed ball by catcher Robert Llera allowed a run to score to make it 4-1 and one out later Tremaine Hardin’s RBI single pushed it to 5-1. The Warhawks’ final run of the inning came on a fielder’s choice grounder, putting AUM comfortably in front 6-1.
Dario Polanco hit a solo home run for the Eagles in the fourth to slice the lead to 6-2, and Sos homered in the seventh to make it 6-3. AUM starter Cole Goodwin (9-1) was able to keep Faulkner at bay most of the day, however, allowing just five Eagle hits. Faulkner had only three innings where it had more than one baserunner. He recorded eight strikeouts.
Arche took the loss in the seven-inning affair, falling to 10-2 on the season. AUM outhit the Eagles 15-5, and left 12 men on base to just four for Faulkner.
"My hats off to their pitcher and to their head coach, Marty Lovrich," Faulkner head coach Patrick McCarthy. "They have a class program, and their conference championship is well-deserved. He’d been here so long as an assistant coach, and to come back and win a championship as the head coach is a great thing for him and his team.
"But I’m so proud of our senior leadership. Our guys were still loose after the loss, and it showed in the second game. We certainly wanted to win the championship, but that’s never our goal. Our goal is to be playing our best baseball in April and May, and if the bi-product of that is a championship then that’s great. This year AUM earned the title, and we came up a little short. In no way, however, does that take us away from what we still have in front of us this season."
In the series-clinching victory for Faulkner in Game 2, the Eagles erupted in the second inning to take control. Mario Amaral and Dennis Morton opened the inning with singles, followed by a bunt base hit by Dario Polanco. In an effort to throw out Polanco at first, AUM catcher Kaleb Harris threw the ball into the right-field corner, allowing all three runners to score for a 3-0 lead. Later in the inning, with the bases loaded, Amaral doubled into the gap in right-center to clear the bases and push the Faulkner advantage to 6-0. The Eagles scored twice more, once on a Chris Madera single, as they sent 13 batters to the plate in the inning.
AUM scored three times in its half of the inning with Bryan Young singling in one and Josh Thompson doubling in two more to make it 8-3. Neither team scored again until the sixth when Faulkner sent 10 to the plate, crossing it five times to build a 13-3 lead. Nick Cain had an RBI single and Chris Madera a two-run double in the big inning for the Eagles, who also scored twice on wild pitches from AUM reliever Rock Rucker.
Faulkner starter Phillip Anderson (8-2), who earned the victory, didn’t survive the Warhawks’ sixth inning, surrendering three straight hits and a run without recording an out. Reliever Christian Torres retired the next three AUM batters, two by strikeout, to snuff out the threat.
The Eagles dashed any Warhawk hopes for a comeback in the seventh, scoring four times on five straight hits to build a lopsided 17-4 lead. McCarthy emptied the bench, sending four pinch hitters to the plate in the inning.
Torres pitched a scoreless bottom of the seventh, which ended the game by the 10-run rule. Matt Miller (7-3) lasted only an inning and a third and took the loss for the Warhawks.