TIGERVILLE, S.C. — It wasn’t easy for Paul O’Neil to watch Anthony Burke leave the mound after pitching seven innings for the University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball team in the first round of the NCAA Southeast Regional on Thursday night.
“I’ve been a head coach for 24 years and I’ve never gotten emotional when a kid’s finished his career, or with things that happened during a ballgame,” the Braves’ coach said. “I started to get emotional after his last inning. That’s how much that kid means to me.”
The senior logged 10 strikeouts while giving up five runs on four hits and four walks before seeing his night come to an end after 121 pitches. He then watched from the dugout as Columbus State (41-12) scored three runs in the eighth inning to secure an 8-2 victory over the Braves (38-14) at North Greenville University.
UNCP will play on Saturday at 3 p.m. in an elimination game against the winner of Friday’s game between Lincoln Memorial and Belmont Abbey.
“In the seventh, I went out there for him (Burke),” O’Neil said. “He was done. He had nothing left in the tank. I told him that I should take him out right here, that’s the smart play right here. But he’s been our workhorse for the last two years. He’s been our guy, and he has earned the right to walk off the field with a complete inning right there.”
Burke took the loss in a matchup against Columbus State’s Kolton Ingram, who also lasted seven innings on the mound. Ingram struck out seven, walked two and gave up two runs on five hits.
“I thought he pitched really good,” Columbus State head coach Greg Appleton said of Ingram’s outing. “He was on short rest and coming off a nine-inning performance in the conference tournament. He gutted it out and did a good job.”
Austin Pharr went 2-for-3 with three RBIs for the Cougars. Three of those RBIs came on a three-run home run to right field in the sixth inning.
Roberto Rivera and Trevor Clemons drove in one run apiece for the Braves, who registered six hits.
Chase Brown launched a solo homer in the first inning to give Columbus State an early lead, before a lightning delay in the third inning halted the game for around 45 minutes.
Burke quickly regained momentum by striking out the side when the third inning resumed. UNCP’s offense took a little longer to find its footing, using an RBI ground-rule double by Rivera to score its first run in the fifth inning, before Jarratt Mobley came home on a suicide squeeze bunt by Clemons.
Mobley’s score gave the Braves a 2-1 lead that lasted until the sixth inning. With rain starting to fall at North Greenville University’s Ashmore Park, Columbus State’s Drew Webb scored on a balk before Pharr hit his home run.
Frank Wager walked with the bases loaded in the eight inning to increase the Cougar lead to 6-2. Garrett Kirkwood hit a two-RBI single to plate Columbus State’s final runs.
UNCP had an opportunity to rally with the bases loaded and one out in the eighth inning, but Columbus State reliever Jalen Latta got Connor Grainger to ground into a double play to end the threat.
Columbus State will face top-seeded North Greenville (44-8) at 3 p.m. on Friday.
Reach Brandon Tester at 910-816-1989 or [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @BrandonTester.