The Lee baseball Flames opened Southern States Athletic Conference play with an 11-6 victory over the University of Mobile but it did not come without some frustrating moments for coach Mark Brew and his staff.
The Flames jumped out to a 9-0 lead after 5 1/2 innings and appeared well on their way to a possible seven inning (run rule) win. However, walks, errors and a brief hitting lapse helped extend the contest and forced Brew to go deep into his bullpen before the night ended.
"I was really disappointed with the way we played in the final 3 1/2 innings," said Brew. "We had a chance to save some pitching but we blew the opportunity. This could hurt our chances of winning the championship and that's what we are down here to do."
Patrick Merkling sailed through the first five innings allowing no runs and scattered five hits. However, the easy ride came to a halt when the Rams sent seven men to the plate in the sixth inning and finally put a run on the board. Merkling (8-1) collected the victory but he struggled in the sixth allowing two walks and hitting another batter.
With Merkling's pitch count rising, Brew went to the bullpen in the seventh inning and called on Mike Fasolo. He struck out the first two batters, but three walks and an error forced Brew to make another call to the bullpen. Kyle Briner got the final out in the seventh but was greeted by two doubles, another error and surrendered a walk before Andy Hillis was summoned to the mound.
Hillis proceeded to get the final out in the eighth but Mobile had climbed back into the game and trailed 9-5. The Flames gave Hillis a little cushion in the top of the ninth when Blake Barber stroked a two-run single. Hillis faced seven batters in the ninth and allowed two runs before inducing a pop-up to end any hopes of a Rams comeback.
The late rally by the Rams overshadowed Lee's 15-hit attack. Brady Renner helped lead the charge with a pair of doubles, a single and scored three runs. Jorge Saez did his part with a double in the first that scored Renner. He also blasted a solo homer in the third and came back with an RBI hit in the sixth. Barber finished the evening with three RBI, two hits and one run scored.
The early-innings uprising was fueled by a long two-run homer by Trevor Burgess in the second. He came right back in the third to collect two more RBI with a ringing double. He was part of five of Lee's 11 runs. Edmanuel Rivera garnered a double, a single and scored once, while third-baseman Roberto Duran posted a pair of singles and scored three times. Every Flame in the starting lineup with the exception of one had at least one hit.
Michael King was the starting and losing hurler for the Rams. He lasted only two innings, giving up five hits and six earned runs. Mobile used three pitchers in the loss.
The Flames will move on to second round action on Friday and will face William Carey (Miss.) in a contest scheduled for a 7 p.m. start. The Crusaders scored the only upset in the opening round, posting a 5-3 win over Auburn-Montgomery. Earlier in the day, Shorter advanced with a victory over Southern Poly and top-seeded Faulkner coasted past Belhaven.