SPARTANBURG, S.C. – USC Upstate standout starter Brandon Lee went seven strong innings and Luke Weber had a monster day at the plate to lead the USC Upstate baseball team to an 11-2 victory over Akron Friday evening in the first game of a three-game series this weekend at Harley Park.
Upstate improved to 9-3 with the win and will face Akron Saturday at 1:00 p.m. It marked the third time this season the Spartans scored 10 or more runs in a game this season. Akron fell to 0-10 on the year with the loss.
Akron struck early against Lee (Palatka, Fla.). With runners on first and second, Matt LaRocca singled to left to drive in a run and the runners moved up to second and third on the throw home. One batter later, Joey Havrilak singled in the hole between short and third to give the Zips a 2-0 lead. With runners on first and third, Lee got Grant Alvarez to ground into a double play to end the inning.
Upstate answered in the bottom of the inning. Tyler Lesch (St. Cloud, Fla.) singled with one out and moved to second on reigning A-Sun Player of the Year Gaither Bumgardner's (Fort Lawn, S.C.) sacrifice bunt. Weber (Spartanburg, S.C.) followed with a double down the line in left, driving in Lesch to cut the Akron lead to 2-1.
"I was real pleased with how we came back in the first inning," said Upstate head coach Matt Fincher. "They kind of punched us in the mouth there and I don't know that our guys were ready for that. So, to have our guys score a run there sent a message. That was good. I really liked the way we started the game in the first three innings. We are trying to work on consistency and not just hit in a few innings, but throughout the entire game. We need to put pressure on teams all nine innings and not just three or four innings at a time."
Upstate took the lead with a five-run second inning and would not surrender it the rest of the way. Brody Greer (Honea Path, S.C.) started things off with a double and moved to third on Erik Samples' (Hampton, S.C.) single. Jordan Stampler (Davie, Fla.) followed with an RBI single to drive in Greer with the tying run and put runners on first and second. A fly out later, Upstate put runners on the corners with two outs for Bumgardner.
Bumgardner sent a grounder up the middle, but Akron's second baseman misplayed the ball, allowing Samples to score from third with an unearned run as Upstate opened a 3-2 lead. Weber followed with a single to left to drive in Stampler from second to give the Spartans a 4-2 advantage. Trey Richardson (Lakeland, Fla.) drove a double into the gap in left center to clear the bases and give the Spartans a 6-2 lead.
After a shaky start out of Lee in the first inning, the righty settled in and turned in a masterful outing to shutdown the Akron bats. He allowed just three base runners over the next six innings, retiring the Zips in order in the fourth, sixth and seventh. He left after the seventh, giving way to Chris Knauff (Marietta, Ga.). Lee would go on to improve to 4-0 on the year with the win, allowing two runs on six hits with four strikeouts in seven innings.
"After the first, Brandon understood their mode of operation and was able to make the adjustment," said Fincher. "He made some good pitches. That's the type of game we need out of him to start the weekend."
Upstate extended its lead by a run, 7-2, in the third inning. The Spartans loaded the bases with two outs, chasing Akron starter JT Brubaker out of the game for reliever Andrew Fanning and bringing up Spartan leftfielder Lesch. Lesch drew the walk, plating Brandon Patterson (Polk City, Fla.) with the seventh run of the game for Upstate.
As explosive as the first part of the game was, the game settled down after the third inning with neither team cracking the scoreboard until Upstate scored in the eighth. After Lee left in the seventh, Knauff struck out the side in the eighth. Akron's Fanning quieted the Upstate bats as well, giving way to Joe Cochran to start the bottom of the eighth.
Upstate added to the lead in the bottom of the eighth inning. Bumgardner reached on an error with one out and moved to second with a stolen base. Weber picked up his third RBI of the game, slapping a run-scoring single to left to give the Spartans an 8-2 lead. Patterson made it a 9-2 lead with an RBI single through the right side. Upstate made it an 11-2 game on Greer's bases loaded ground out and a bases loaded walk by Stampler.
Upstate closer Chad Sobotka (Sarasota, Fla.) came in and pitched a perfect ninth with three strikeouts to close out the game.
"It was good to get Knauff out there," said Fincher. "He hasn't pitched all year and Sobotka hadn't pitched all week, so he needed the work."
Akron's Brubaker took the loss to fall to 0-4 on the year. He allowed seven runs on eight hits in 2 2/3 innings. Only three of the seven runs were earned in his outing.
Weber led Upstate at the plate. The junior finished 4-for-5 with three RBIs and two runs. Richardson finished with two hits and a pair of RBIs.
"Luke needed that, we needed that," said Fincher. "We would love for Luke to hit fourth in our lineup and be a guy that moves the ball around."