PEMBROKE — The University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball team knows every win is crucial at this point in the season, which is why its doubleheader sweep of Peach Belt Conference foe Georgia Southwestern on Saturday helped generate extra momentum for the Braves.
The team was ranked eighth in the Southeast Region last week, meaning the Braves have to work to earn an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament unless they win the PBC tournament in two weeks.
UNCP made its postseason aspirations known against the Hurricanes, using strong offensive showings in both ends of the doubleheader to win the two games 16-7 and 13-7, respectively.
“We’re playing for something right now,” UNCP head coach Paul O’Neil said. “We need to win (the series finale) tomorrow. We’re trying to improve our record and then have a good showing in our conference tournament.”
Third baseman Trey Jacobs, who tied a program record in the second game with his 24th double of the season, said the Braves (35-12, 16-12 PBC) understand the implications of how they play over the next couple of weeks.
“It’s huge. We’re fighting for a regional, so these wins really help us,” Jacobs said.
Connor Grainger was a driving force offensively for the Braves, finishing 3-for-5 with three RBIS and three runs scored in the series opener, before going 2-for-5 at the plate while driving in three more runs in the second game.
“I felt good at the plate,” said Grainger, who tripled and homered in the first game and doubled in the latter half of the twinbill. “I was seeing pitches well and sitting on pitches I wanted to hit.”
Luke Jackson also swung the bat well for the Braves, picking up three RBIs in both games and scoring five total runs for the day. He also registered a home run in the first game.
Anthony Burke took the mound for the Braves in the series opener, lasting eight innings while allowing one earned run, as the Hurricanes plated six total runs in that stretch. He yielded 12 hits while picking up two strikeouts and a walk.
“I felt alright today,” Burke said. “I didn’t really have my stuff. I was trying to compete and get outs for my team so we didn’t have to use other pitchers.”
Dale Masterson took over in the ninth inning and gave up one run on two hits.
Mitch Holloway took the loss for the Hurricanes (10-34, 5-24 PBC) in the opener, allowing eight earned runs on nine hits while striking out three and walking a pair of batters in 5 2/3 innings. Jason Baita was 2-for-5 with two doubles and a run scored for the Hurricanes.
Jordan Toney started for UNCP in game two. He was able to keep the Hurricanes off the scoreboard until the visitors rallied for seven runs over the fifth and sixth innings.
Toney’s final line included 4 2/3 innings, 12 hits and seven runs. He gave up one walk and notched four strikeouts in his 96-pitch outing.
Aaron Biggerstaff tossed 2 1/3 scoreless innings in relief and Gunner Deal closed the game by registering four strikeouts over the final two frames.
Jacobs was 4-for-5 at the plate with three doubles and four runs scored. Roberto Rivera, Seth Hartings, Grainger and Jackson each had two hits.
Catcher Alex Simpson hit a home run for the Braves.
Baita was 3-for-5 with a home run, two RBIs and two runs scored for Georgia Southwestern. Starting pitcher Kyle Britt took the loss after giving up seven runs in just one inning of work for the Hurricanes.
The Braves are celebrating senior day today to close out the series with the Hurricanes in last game of their regular season. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.
The PBC Tournament will take place at Flagler University in St. Augustine, Fla., from May 11 to May 13. UNCP Currently sits in fifth place in the conference standings.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.