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Spartans Win Series Against Charleston Southern

nce the last recap after Upstate dropped the series to Radford, the Spartans have gotten back on track, sweeping UNC Asheville in the first ever I-26 Rivalry Series, as well as taking the brooms on the road to Winthrop. Last weekend, the Spartans traveled down to Joe Riley Park in Charleston to take on the Citadel in their final non conference series. Upstate took 2 of three from the Bulldogs.

 

The midweek games have been less than kind for USCU. They fell in a 5 inning rain-shortened contest 6-1 to Elon back on March 26th. On April 2nd, the Spartans were run-ruled at Fluor Field 11-1 in 7 innings in their 2nd meeting of the season with the Clemson Tigers. Fast forward a week, and Upstate picked up a huge RPI boost with their biggest win of the season. Upstate marched into Doug Kingsmore Stadium for one last tilt with Clemson, and behind 4 home runs – 2 from Noah Sullivan, one from Tyler Lang, and a huge go-ahead grand slam in the 8th inning by Koby Kropf, upset the then-#2 ranked Tigers 9-5.

 

This week, Upstate returned home to Cleveland Harley Park and took on the Queens University of Charlotte Royals on Tuesday night, ultimately winning a back-and-forth affair 8-5 to set the stage for a return to conference play against one of the 4 teams at the top of the league battling for potential seeding in the Big South Conference Tournament with a 3 game set against Charleston Southern this weekend.

 

Prior to the series opener, Upstate had three hitters each with 12 home runs on the season -p Troy Hamilton, Noah Sullivan, and Koby Kropf. The story of game one in the early going was that all three of them hit one. Hamilton kicked off the scoring in the bottom of the 2nd, leading off with a no doubt solo shot to left. Noah Sullivan helped himself (he was the Spartans’ starting pitcher) with a solo blast of his own in the bottom of the third. Kropf added his in the same inning, his being the first multi-run homer in the contest. Jake Armsey joined in on the derby with a solo blast in the bottom of the 4th, marking his 2nd of the season to push the Spartans’ lead to 5-1. Each of those homers would help give their respective players a tie for the 2nd most long balls in a season in USC Upstate’s Division I era, which dates back to 2007.

 

Charleston Southern finally broke through in the top of the fifth with a 2 spot before the weather would begin its havoc on the weekend. The two sides would see their starters’ days both end during a 2 hour weather delay. Once play resumed, Upstate added another run on Koby Kropf’s team-leading third RBI of the game, coming on a single up the middle.

 

The Buccaneers battled back to take the lead, plating 4 runs over the next 3 innings, giving them a late 7-6 advantage, but thanks to Tyler Lang, it was short-lived. He tied the game in the bottom of 8th with an RBI single. Jace Rinehart later gave the Spartans the lead on a 2-run RBI double, and Daniel Gernon added an RBI knock up the gut to make for the 10-7 final score as Cooper Ellingworth notched his 4th save of the season to seal the victory.

 

Thanks to the threat of rain most of the day on Sunday, it was decided that the remainder of the series would be played as a double header on Saturday afternoon/evening. That twin bill would end up being a tale of 2 games.

The first game of the double header featured Henry Proger on the bump, who has been absolutely spectacular since Mike McGuire made the decision to switch his spot in the rotation with Mathieu Curtis, who is now the game three starter. Proger combined with Jagger Jefferis to shut CSU out. Henry pitched 7 innings and surrendered 3 hits with a walk and 5 strikeouts. Jagger pitched the last 2 frames, allowing no hits, walking 2 and recording 3 strikeouts.

 

The Upstate bats complemented the pitching well, exploding for 13 runs on 11 hits. The highlight of that was Noah Sullivan, who uncorked a pair of home runs in his first 2 plate appearances – one solo shot off the top of the netting on the face of the scoreboard in left and the other for 3 RBIs just over the corner of the batter’s eye in center. Sullivan would finish with a team-high 5 RBIs, his other coming on a bases-loaded walk in the 7th. Troy Hamilton and Koby Kropf also each added a pair of RBIs in the 13-0 series-clinching shutout.

 

You hear it said often in jest that teams need to save some runs for tomorrow or the next game when they hang a very crooked number. That old adage rang true in the series finale. Upstate struggled to get their bats going, with a combination of several things – bad luck on hard hit balls, lots of line drives right at a defender, and lots of pop ups on the infield. That, paired with Charleston Southern striking for a couple of solo home runs early on off of Mathieu Curtis, made life difficult for the Spartans.

 

They finally broke the goose egg in the bottom of the sixth inning when Koby Kropf laced a single up the middle. The center fielder got to it and fell down as he was fielding it, allowing Kropf to slide into second with a straight double. Daniel Gernon followed it with an RBI single. After David Pereira drew a walk, Vance Sheahan, who could accurately be nicknamed the singles machine, delivered a game-tying knock up the middle to score Gernon.

 

That 2-2 tie held until the top of the 8th inning when Upstate’s infield defense cost them. With 1 out, a ground ball was hit to Troy Hamilton at short that he booted for an E6. Following a groundout and a wild pitch, another grounder was hit to 2nd, and this one hopped and kicked off the glove of Jake Armsey for an E4, plating the go-ahead run unearned.

 

Upstate threatened with the tying run in scoring position in the bottom of the 9th thanks to a 1 out walk by pinch hitter Tyler Lang and a stolen base by pinch runner Easton Cullison. But the Spartans failed to push him across thanks to some more tough luck. Jace Rinehart laced a line drive to left that appeared to be dropping for a single but somehow hung long enough to be run down. Cullison was already at 3rd ready to score thinking it was going to drop and ended up getting doubled off at 2nd to end the game as CSU salvaged the finale 3-2.

 

“Double headers stink. It’s one of those things where you see it all the time. You play well in the first game. We did. We scored 13 runs. But then you start slow in the 2nd game. We used some bullets up in the bullpen Friday and it felt like there was some pressure riding on our starters to go deep. Henry Proger did that which gave us ample guys to use in the second game. Curt (Mathieu Curtis) didn’t pitch badly. He gave up 2 hits, but unfortunately both left the yard. We pitched extremely well all day. Most game threes in a series, if we give up 3 runs, we are gonna come back and win that ballgame. I feel like had we played tomorrow, you’d have gotten a different day offensively. But winning a series is a good thing. This one stings a bit because we won the first 2. The guys could smell that we were gonna score there with the tying run on 2nd and the top of the order up, but it just didn’t happen. Offensively we just didn’t do enough to keep pressure on their pitching”, said Coach McGuire after the game 3 loss.

 

The Spartans, now 27-14 overall, 12-3 in the Big South, will not play this midweek due to final exams, which is a welcome break according to McGuire.

 

“For a few guys the rest will be good. The first couple of days this week will be light practices and we will get after it a bit more on Wednesday. When you play the same guys as much as we do, you get some guys banged up. We got some guys nicked up that can use the week. Jace Rinehart took an HBP off the ankle. Troy (Hamilton) has been battling a leg issue that has kept him from running. So a week with no game until Friday is gonna be good for us to get healthy.”

 

Upstate will return to action Friday on the road with yet another huge series with the team currently in 2nd place in the conference and just 2 games behind them – the Presbyterian College Blue Hose. The three game set begins Friday at 6:00 PM at Elton Pollock Field in Clinton, continues Saturday at 4, and will wrap up Sunday at 2:00.

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