It’s about a month into the 2019 season, and UNCG Baseball is winding down its non conference slate. The 2018 SoCon regular season champions are in decent shape at 13-5 and had won seven straight before falling to Jacksonville University 8-4 on Sunday afternoon at UNCG Baseball Stadium.
First, UNCG had a Tuesday home matchup with the Elon Phoenix that saw the Spartans pull out a 4-3 victory. UNCG trailed 3-1 in the eighth inning, but a wild pitch with the bases loaded followed by a sacrifice fly tied the game. On the next at-bat, Greg Hardison drove in the winning run with a dribbling single past the shortstop. A clutch save from closer Brandon Stephens sealed the Spartan victory.
Hardison led the Spartans offensively, going 2-5 with an RBI and a run, while Jake Mayhew earned the win in relief. Austin Parsley got the start for UNCG and delivered 3.2 innings and five strikeouts.
Arriving in Greensboro over the weekend were the 11-8 Jacksonville University Dolphins. Rain on Friday forced a doubleheader on Saturday, but the weather couldn’t have been better for the first pitch: a little cool, a little breezy, and a whole lot of sunshine. The weather ended up a good omen for UNCG, who swept the doubleheader 5-4 and 13-3, respectively.
Saturday’s first game was a thrilling walk-off, come-from-behind victory for the Spartans. Down 4-1 in the ninth inning, UNCG rattled off four straight runs, with Austin Embler winning the game thanks to a bases-loaded walk from Jacksonville pitcher Darien Smith.
It was what only could be described as an utter meltdown from not just Smith, but the whole team. In the ninth inning, the Dolphins committed one throwing error and one wild pitch, hit one Spartan batter, tossed three walks and allowed three hits. That’s a nightmare scenario for any manager.
Smith, just a freshman, entered the game at 4-1 with the bases loaded and one out. Jacquez Koonce was up to bat, and he sent up a pop fly to the Jacksonville outfielder that allowed Zach Kuchmaner to trot home for the run. 4-2, Spartans. Smith then threw a wild pitch and David Flores scored, then walked Embler on four straight balls and the implosion was on.
Up to the plate next came preseason SoCon Player of the Year Caleb Webster. He connected on a single, and a throwing error drove in another run. Smith walked Josh Madole with the bases loaded and Embler scored the game-winning run for the anticlimactic finish. Smith earned the loss and Corey Jackson got the win, pitching two innings and giving up two earned runs.
The crushing defeat sucked the life out of the Dolphins for the back half of the doubleheader. Despite trailing 3-1 entering the sixth, the Spartans eventually turned it on and scored 12 runs in the last three innings for the blowout victory.
Caveness and Hogan Windish led the way for the Spartans, each driving in five runs apiece. Brandon Stephens secured the win, pitching 2.2 innings and giving up zero runs.
UNCG looked to complete the sweep and continue their seven-game win streak with a win on Sunday, but the Dolphins had other plans. An RBI triple in the third inning from Jacksonville’s Scott DuBrule contributed to a 4-0 Jacksonville lead, and they just cruised from there.
A fifth inning single raised the Dolphin lead to 7-1 and pushed the Spartans to the brink. Windish attempted to spark a rally with a two-run RBI single, but it wasn’t enough. The Dolphins swam home with the 8-4 victory and the satisfaction of having ended UNCG’s winning streak.
UNCG now hits this weekend the road for the beginning of conference play. They’ll take on Mercer in Macon, Georgia in a three-game series.