SPARTANBURG, S.C. – In a game that featured 23 runs and 33 hits, USC Upstate rallied past Kennesaw State Saturday night to clinch the first of six spots in the 2012 Atlantic Sun Conference Baseball Championship. The four day event will be hosted by Stetson University in DeLand, Fla., beginning Wednesday, May 23 and concluding Saturday, May 26.
Upstate's (33-15, 16-7) offense showed its self early, and then when it mattered most, reappeared late. The Spartans scored six runs in the first inning to take the early advantage on the visiting Owls (28-21, 13-10).
Jordan Stampler (Davie, Fla.) scored the game's first run on a RBI single by Austin Liput (Oviedo, Fla.) Liput later scored and gave the Spartans a 2-0 lead when Tyler Cook (Bloomington, Ill.) singled to center field. With the bases loaded and two outs, Trey Richardson (Lakeland, Fla.) connected on the first grand slam in more than two calendar years as his blast to left also plated Greg Guers (Langhorne, Pa.), Cook and Dillon Way (Orangeburg, S.C.). The last Spartan to record a grand slam was Gaither Bumgardner (Fort Lawn, S.C.) on Apr. 3, 2010 (vs. Jacksonville, Sixth Inning).
Upstate increased the lead to 7-0 in the third when Way singled to center field, allowing Guers to score from second base.
Kennesaw State tallied its first run of the game when Andy Almonte scored on Will Howard's RBI single to left center in the top of the fourth.
The Spartans responded with two runs in the bottom of the frame to push the lead to eight runs, 9-1. Guers delivered a RBI single through the right side allowing Stampler and Bumgardner to score.
Kennesaw State evened the contest at nine apiece with eight runs in the fifth inning. Ronnie Freeman hit a three-run homer to left and the Owls chased Spartan starter Scott DeCecco (Cape May Courthouse, N.J.) from the contest. Four of the Owls' eight runs in the inning were unearned.
The Owls took their first lead of the contest with a pair of runs in the seventh. Jordan Craft and Aaron Dobbs each scored to put Kennesaw State in front, 11-9.
After being held scoreless in the fifth, sixth and seventh, the Spartans scored three runs in the bottom of the eighth to regain the lead. Richardson led off with a double to center and moved to third on a passed ball when Stampler walked on four pitches. Richardson scored on Bumgardner's infield single to close the gap to one run. With Stampler on third and Bumgardner on second, Liput doubled to the gap in left center to drive in the game-winning runs.
In the ninth, the Spartans brought on closer Chad Sobotka (Sarasota, Fla.) to close out the contest. Sobotka forced a fly out and struck out the next two batters to earn his 12th save of the season. With save number 12, the rookie tied the single-season school-record held by Bradley Blanks (2006).
Ben Augenstein earned the win in relief to improve to 4-1 on the season. Augenstein allowed two hits and struck out three in 1.1 innings of work.
The loss was credited to Kevin McCoy who pitched the final four innings of the contest, surrendering three runs on four hits with one walk and seven punch outs.
Guers led the Spartans with a 4-for-5 effort to go along with two runs and two RBI. Richardson added four RBI on two hits, while Liput and Bumgardner combined for six hits, four RBI and three runs.
Andy Almonte paced Kennesaw State with a 4-for-5 effort and two runs.
The two teams will meet in the rubber game tomorrow at 1 p.m. Brandon Lee (Palatka, Fla.) is slated to get the start tomorrow for the Spartans, while Kennesaw State will likely counter with Josh Carr.