HARTSVILLE, S.C.- Thomas Lopez and RJ Ball provided the exclamation points needed on Friday (April 13) afternoon as the Coker College baseball team belted two home runs, one a grand slam, and used 14 hits to defeat the Tusculum College Pioneers 16-14 at Tom J. New Field at Dave Schmotzer Stadium.
What a back-and-forth game it was from the start. Tusculum and Coker combined for 30 runs and 30 hits to provide ample entertainment for the crowd on campus in Hartsville on Friday.
Tusculum jumped out to an early 3-0 lead and Coker came right back at them with two runs in the bottom of the first inning. With two outs, Larry McCabe beat out an infield single and moved to second before Brooks Estrada reached on catcher's interference. Tusculum's starter Charles Hall attempted to pick off McCabe at second but sent the ball into centerfield moving both runners into scoring position on the play. A batter later, Connor Cleary drove in the first two Coker runs on a single back up the middle. Thomas Lopez also picked up a single before a fielder's choice ended the inning. Coker trailed the Pioneers 3-2 going to the second inning.
The Cobras kept their foot on the gas taking the lead 5-3 in the bottom of the second inning. Charlie Burguieres led off the inning with a walk and moved to second on a Tanner Crosby single to left. Next, Reilly Hall shot a base hit through the left side to load the bases for Bryson Conner. Conner sent a two-run single down the left field line, giving the Cobras the 4-3 lead. With one out, Estrada drew the second walk in the inning to once again load the bases and Cleary recorded his third RBI on a fielder's choice as Coker led 5-3.
The sixth run for Coker crossed the plate in the fourth inning. Hall opened the frame reaching second on a throwing error from the Pioneers' second baseman. Conner then shot an RBI single back up the middle to give the Cobras a three-run cushion.
Tusculum fought back though with six runs in the fifth and sixth innings to take the 9-6 lead into the home half of the sixth. Thus, the trend of a Coker comeback was prevalent. After a Pioneers pitching change and with two outs, Estrada worked his way on base with a hit-by-pitch. Cleary too earned a free pass with a walk to put runners on first and second for Lopez. Lopez stepped in and tied the game 9-9 with a three-run blast to left field, his first home run of the 2018 season. The game-tying shot also gives Lopez 8 career home runs, tying him with the fourth-most in Coker baseball history.
The Pioneers would once more take the lead when a lone run crossed in the top of the seventh to lead Coker 10-9. The Cobras wouldn't have any of it, as they continued to battle. Tanner Crosby was plunked on the arm to lead off the bottom of the seventh and moved to second on a wild pitch before Hall was walked. The next play, Conner flew out to right and both base runners tagged up on the play, but an appeal from Tusculum would tab the lead runner Crosby out at third as the umpire deemed he left second base early. With two outs and a runner on second base, RJ Ball pinch hit and reached on a throwing error from the shortstop, scoring Hall to tie the game at 10-10.
Tanner Wofford (3-3) entered to begin the eighth for Coker, holding Tusculum scoreless in the frame. Coker, however, gave themselves much needed insurance runs in the bottom half of the eighth.
Lopez recorded his third hit of the game with a bloop single to center and moved to second after Lake Lybrand laid down a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt. Burguieres then stood in and put the Cobras ahead 11-10 on a single through the left side scoring Lopez. Burguieres moved to second on the play at the plate and Crosby was walked behind him. Tusculum went to the bullpen for a left-hander to face Hall, who made the most of the lefty-lefty matchup with an RBI single to the gap in left center to make it 12-10. Hall moved to second on the throw which had runners in scoring position and one out, which forced Tusculum to intentionally walk Conner searching for the force out at every base. With the bases loaded and one out, Tusculum's strategy did not work out to their favor as RJ Ball cranked his second grand slam, fourth homer of the year on a line over the left field wall to put Coker up 16-10.
Tusculum would make things even more interesting in the bottom of the ninth as they scored four runs and presented the tying run at the plate, but Drake Knight came in relief of Wofford and closed out the game with a strikeout to hand Coker the series opening victory 16-14.
Four Cobras had a multi-hit game, which included three from Lopez (3-for-6, 3 RBI, 2 R, HR), two from Hall (2-for-5, RBI, 4 R, BB), two from Conner (2-for-5, 3 RBI, R, BB, SB), and two from Cleary (2-for-4, 3 RBI, R, 2 BB).
The Navy and Gold will take on the Pioneers on Saturday, April 14 in a doubleheader from Tom J. New Field at Dave Schmotzer Stadium. Game one of the doubleheader is slated for a 12 p.m. start. Coker College will be honoring its baseball seniors prior to the first game approximately at 11:30 a.m. Those being honored include Charlie Burguieres, Joey Carpenter, Connor Cleary, Bryson Conner, Brooks Estrada, Thomas Lopez, and JT Whritner.
The doubleheader will be available courtesy of the Cobra Sports Network, alongside live-stats, which can be accessed by visiting www.cokercobras.com.
McDonald's Player of the Game-
Thomas Lopez (3-for-6, 3 RBI, 2 R, HR)