MOUNT OLIVE — Paul O’Neil knows his team and the toughness it has, and Friday The University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball team showed it with some late-inning heroics.
“The grit on our team is phenomenal,” the UNCP coach said. “To beat us, you’re going to have to get us out 27 times.”
After Mount Olive had 26 outs against the Braves in their second game of the NCAA Southeast regional, UNCP showed its mettle. The Braves entered the ninth inning down two runs, but fought back with two outs to take the No. 1 team in the country into extras.
In the end, the errors that the Braves were able to dance around during their comeback proved too costly as Mount Olive sent them to the losers’ bracket in a 4-3 loss in 13 innings.
“They did a lot of things well and we just didn’t do enough things to try and beat them,” O’Neil said. “I’m very proud of our guys and the way they hung in there with everything in that baseball game, but we just didn’t do enough things correct to beat a team of their quality.”
The Braves will take on Lincoln Memorial at 10 a.m. today with elimination being just one loss away for both teams the rest of the tournament.
UNCP (41-16) left seven runners on base heading into the ninth inning, and a mix up in the middle of the order was a quick fix for the problem. Lucas Ledford was subbed in and started the ninth with a one-out double to right field. After a Drew Beaver strikeout put two outs on the board, the runs came through.
Stibel Aleman Saba came in as a pinch hitter and doubled to right field to score Ledford. Aleman Saba was taken off the base paths for Anthony Burke, the winning pitcher in the first game of the regional, and a throwing error in the next at-bat sent him home to tie the game heading to the bottom of the inning.
“We just kept putting different guys in and finally once they took (Bruce) Zimmerman out we could put a couple left-handers in the lineup,” O’Neil said. “Getting Stibel and Lucas in the lineup, that really helped us and gave us a spark because those two guys had three hits from the ninth inning on.”
Mount Olive (48-8) went down quietly in the ninth inning with Kyle Ramsey on the mound for UNCP to go to the wild 10th inning.
Singles by Luke Jackson and Nick Debo started another scoring threat for the Braves that Ledford finished with an RBI single to left field to give UNCP its first lead of the game at 3-2, but the Trojans made it a short-lived one.
“They were intense and a lot of stuff was going on there. It was fun,” Ledford said of the ninth and 10th innings. “I thought I just needed to come up and do my job.”
A failed pickoff by Ramsey allowed Drew Ellis to score from third with no outs in the bottom of the 10th and the Trojans looked to end the game in the same inning after quickly loading the bases with no outs.
Then the Braves buckled down once again.
Ramsey forced three infield grounders that his defense — that had committed four errors already in the inning — fielded and got the force outs to keep their chances alive.
Both teams went down quietly in the next 2 1/2 innings before Jose Lopez ended it with a walk-off single to right field to score Zack Mozingo from second, after Debo mishandled the ball and couldn’t get a throw to the plate. On top of scoring the winning run, Mozingo also picked up the win after throwing 5 2/3 innings in relief of Bruce Zimmermann. The pair of pitchers did not allow a walk and combined to strike out 12 batters.
“Once they tied it up, I thought his command got better,” Mount Olive coach Carl Lancaster said of Mozingo.
After getting through the ninth and 10th innings, Mozingo settled in and retired the side the rest of the way en route to earning his fourth win of the season.
“It happened and there wasn’t nothing you could do at that point. I wasn’t the happiest about it but you’ve just got to pitch through it,” Mozingo said.
Mozingo was in the lineup originally as the designated hitter and hit in the first run of the game for the Trojans with an RBI double in the fifth inning. Ricky Surum’s RBI single in the seventh put Mount Olive up 2-0.
UNCP was led at the plate by Debo and Roberto Rivera with three hits each, while Mozingo and Trae Sweeting each had three hits to lead Mount Olive.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.