PEMBROKE — For the first time since he finished out his career at Fairmont, Cole Lovin got the ball to start the game when he took the mound for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball team, after his scheduled start on Saturday was rained out.
Lovin through the predetermined three innings and helped the Braves get a lead against Wingate before the ball was handed over to the bullpen at home on Tuesday. For him, it was getting back to what he did in high school.
“I was just trying to help get us a win tonight and try to do what I could do,” he said. “It will be a difference in the warm up. It’s more of a slower warm up versus having to get hot and ready fast. I’ll get used to it. It was fun getting to start again tonight.”
After he went to the dugout, a three-run Braves lead evaporated before some late scoring led them to a 9-6 win over Wingate.
The win helped stopped the bleeding from a stretch where UNCP (14-5) had dropped four of its last six games, but it also was a return home to help bolster itself in the regional rankings.
“It was getting back home at the friendly confines here,” UNCP coach Paul O’Neil said. “They’re a good quality team. … This was an important game for us on what we were doing. We needed to win this game. If we would have lost the game after the blow up there in the sixth, I would’ve been very upset.”
The plan from O’Neil was to have the sophomore right-hander throw three innings and then go through several arms in the bullpen to close the game. Lovin used his breaking ball to strike out four batters in his three scoreless innings and allowed one walk.
“I tried to use what was working for me. I’ve been working on my change-up really hard so he’s been calling that sometimes too,” Lovin said. “I couldn’t really find it in the pen, and he said don’t worry about it and told me to just throw my game on the mound.”
This outing comes after allowing three runs on one hit with a walk and a hit batter against Young Harris two weeks ago. He will likely see more time starting for the Braves, including weekend starts in the future for Peach Belt Conference games.
“Cole was going to start on Sunday for us and we got rained out. Possibly, I might bring him back and start him on Saturday,” O’Neil said. “I thought he did an excellent job.”
“I’ve just got to keep the confidence level up and show that I should be there,” Lovin said.
After Thomas DuRant took over in the fourth and the Braves took a 4-0 lead, calamity struck in the top of the sixth.
Wingate (18-6) posted six runs against Trace Hagler and Aaron Biggerstaff during the frame that was capped off with by a three-run homer by Trent Wynn.
UNCP answered in the bottom of the sixth and seventh innings. Roberto Rivera hit a RBI single to take the lead back in the sixth and Ethan Baucom hit a two-run homer in the seventh.
“He’s our best player by far and he just comes through when you need it,” O’Neil said of Rivera. “He gets the big hits for you.”
Connor Grainger had a game-high three hits and one RBI. Rivera, Baucom and Trevor Clemons each had two RBIs. As a staff, the Braves struck out 13 batters, with Lovin and Hank Simpson both ringing up four batters.
The Braves travel to Winston-Salem State for a Friday doubleheader that starts at 4 p.m.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.