The 10th ranked Bulldogs of Tennessee Wesleyan University proved too much for the 14th ranked Bryan College Lions Baseball Team in their three-game Appalachian Athletic Conference series over the weekend. Despite Tennessee Wesleyan completing the sweep, the top-15 shootout was a slugfest and was made apparent in the opening game on Friday. All five runs collected by the Bulldogs were a result of four homeruns, and the Lion’s three runs were a part of a homer and two doubles. Both sides went deep twice in game two to start play Saturday, while each of Bryan’s were from CJ Owens. Bryan was unable to slow down Tennessee Wesleyan who pieced together eight runs in the top of the fifth inning to seal an 11-3 final. The series finale saw 30 total runs scored as the Bulldogs narrowly edged out the Lions 17-13. Bryan and Tennessee Wesleyan had five bombs each, with each team batting over .400 in the game. It took six pitchers from each team to persevere through the seven innings. The Bulldogs improved to 20-8 overall and 8-1 in conference play, while the Lions dropped their overall record to 21-9 and AAC record to 6-3.
Chris Sauve started on the mound for Bryan and tossed a notable performance to begin the series, but four of the seven hits he surrendered traveled over the Senter Field fence. He gave up five runs, walked two, and tallied eight strikeouts in a complete nine innings. Justin Morhardt helped the Lions strike first in their opening at-bat when he watched as the count built to 1-1 and then connected for his sixth homerun of the season. Morhardt has posted impressive numbers so far this year, ranking eighth in the NAIA in total hits with 48, ninth with a .490 batting average, 17th with 12 doubles, 19th with 78 total bases, 23rd with a .796 slugging percentage, 24th averaging 1.6 hits per game, and 49th with 30 runs batted in.
Neither team could capitalize in the second and third innings, even though Tennessee Wesleyan left two on base in the top of the third before Bryan escaped forcing the Bulldogs into a fly out and ground out to end their turn. It wasn’t until the top of the fourth that Tennessee Wesleyan responded with a leadoff homerun followed by a fly out and another deep shot to take a 2-1 lead.
Morhardt doubled in the bottom of the inning, and Prentice Young took over base running duties. A wild pitch allowed the quick legs of Young to take scoring position at third before being plated by a Fernando Garcia single. After four innings, it was tied 2-2.
All it took was one swing of the bat in the top of the fifth for the Bulldogs to regain the lead with a two-run margin. After giving Tennessee Wesleyan a free pass to first by hitting them with a pitch, the next batter stepped up and crushed a two-run jack for a 4-2 advantage.
One more homerun came in the top of the sixth when the Bulldogs led off with a bomb over the fence on the first pitch thrown their way. The insurance run would be good enough to hold off Bryan.
After three innings where the Lions came up empty, they scored final run of the contest in the bottom of the eighth when Mikey Rita was hit by a pitch and then advanced to third from a double delivered by Wade Weinburger. Morhardt sent a long and high sacrifice fly deep, giving time for Rita to reach home and ending the game 5-3 as Tennessee Wesleyan went ahead 1-0 in the series.
Morhardt and Garcia led Bryan with two hits apiece, while Morhardt also had a team-high two RBIs and Garcia ended with one run batted in. Morhardt turned in a double and homerun, while Weinburger notched the only other extra-base hit coming in the form of a double for his only hit of the game. Tyler Scott had the only other hit for Bryan, finishing 1-of-3. Young, Morhardt, and Rita scored the Lion’s three runs.
It all came down to the fifth inning in the second game of the series as the Bulldogs and Lions got play underway on Saturday. Tennessee Wesleyan grabbed an early lead when they singled to leadoff the first and registered the lone run from an RBI double. They kept the rally going in the second when they singled and walked to put two runners on. The next batter grabbed a hold of the ball and sent it to the fence where the Lions attempted to make a play on it, but instead it was costly as the error allowed two Bulldogs to score for a 3-0 advantage.
Owens did all he could to build momentum for Bryan when he helped the stale offense with a leadoff homerun launched over the fence on a 2-1 count, cutting the deficit to 3-1. The Lions couldn’t continue the run in the third and had their at-bat cut short in the bottom of the fourth after hitting into a double play.
The difference maker came in the top of the fifth when Tennessee Wesleyan made a statement with a homer to start their appearance at the plate and then followed it with another homerun for a 4-1 lead. A pitching change by the Lions looked to slow down the Bulldogs, but the runs continued to pour in as Tennessee Wesleyan reached first after being hit by a pitch. A sac-bunt allowed the runner to take second as they successfully reached first too. The Bulldogs applied pressure when they were walked, which loaded the bases. A single scored one run and kept the bases loaded. The next batter hit into a fielder’s choice, but an error at second gave way to another run scored and the bases to remain loaded. Tennessee Wesleyan kept didn’t let off the gas as they delivered a triple and double that scored three more runs, which wrapped up their eight-run spot in the fifth for an 11-1 lead.
It was Owens once again in the seventh that helped Bryan add more to their score. Garcia singled and stole second and was brought home, as Tennessee Wesleyan couldn’t figure out how to stop Owens when he ripped a two-run homer for an 11-3 final.
Owens was a perfect 3-of-3 with all three RBIs and scored two of Bryan’s three runs from two homers. Garcia scored the other run and finished 1-of-3 with a stolen base. Trevor Behrent, Morhardt, and Kila Zuttermeister each tallied one hit as the Lions ended with seven total. Of Tennessee Wesleyan’s 12 hits, three were doubles, two were homeruns, and one was a triple.
Brandon Marklund was given the loss after dealing the first four innings and giving up six runs, five earned, along with eight hits. He ended with three walks and eight strikeouts. Landon Mosteller relieved for one out and was pushed around for three hits and five runs with four being earned. For 1.2 innings, Austin Parrish allowed one hit and threw two K’s before Travis Moore closed for the Lions and finished with one walk and one strikeout.
In order to avoid the sweep, Bryan came out the gate strong with six runs in the bottom of the first to answer Tennessee Wesleyan’s lone run in the top of the frame. The Bulldogs scored of a single that followed two walks and a stolen base. The Lion’s six-run inning, which totaled their runs of the previous two games of the series, began when Zuttermeister singled to leadoff their at-bat. Weinburger laid down a well-executed sac-bunt to advance Zuttermeister to second. Morhardt surged Bryan ahead with a double to put runners on third and second with one out. The pressure got to Tennessee Wesleyan as the pitcher threw a wild pitch, which Zuttermeister capitalized on for the tying run at 1-1 and advanced Morhardt to scoring position at third. In order to avoid Owens, he was walked, but he took second when this time a passed ball gave way to the go-ahead run by Morhardt. Behrent came after with a groundout but it was good enough to set up Owens at third for another scoring opportunity. Garcia plated Owens with a single, providing the Lions with a 3-1 lead. Besides the first game when the close came in late for the Bulldogs, Tennessee Wesleyan was forced to make a pitching change to prevent Bryan running away with an overwhelming lead. The new pitcher walked Lake Burris, which advanced Garcia to second. Garcia advanced to third on a stolen base, and Burris followed suit to take over second. Sam Salyers aided the Lions with another two runs when he singled to score Garcia and Burris for a 5-1 advantage. The final out seemed out of reach for the Bulldogs when Salyers advanced to second on a wild throw before relieving the duties to Young, Bryan’s standout base runner. Rita made it easy for Young when he smacked a double to plate Young for Bryan’s last run of the inning. Tennessee Wesleyan was forced to make another change on the mound, and the new Bulldogs got a Lion to strikeout for the last out.
Just when Bryan felt like they had a comfortable lead, Tennessee Wesleyan responded in the top of the second. One of several errors by the Lions in the inning allowed the first Bulldog at-bat to reach first. A single put pressure with a runner in scoring position at third. Two strikeouts whizzed by as Bryan looked to avoid the threat, but Tennessee Wesleyan did just as the Lions had in the first and made the final out extremely tough to attain. A wild pitch moved the runner from first to second. The Bulldogs scored two runs off a double, and then another wild pitch kept the pressure on as Tennessee Wesleyan controlled third base. A walk allowed two runners on, which was not a good scenario for Bryan as the next batter went yard to score three runs and level the score 6-6. The Lion’s had Tristan Legault take a break as Parrish entered, but the change didn’t have a real impact as the rally continued for the Bulldogs. An error allowed the next batter to reach first, and the bases cleared once again with a two-run homer that created an 8-6 difference between the two teams. Tennessee Wesleyan wouldn’t allow Bryan to see the lead for the rest of the game.
Zane Glass entered to begin the top of the third at the mound for the Lions, but the Bulldogs were allowed a walk and single to start their at-bat. Glass recorded a strikeout and got the next batter to ground out, but the two outs wouldn’t be enough to keep Tennessee Wesleyan from adding to their lead. With a man on second and third, the bases were loaded when another four balls were thrown. A wild pitch resulted in the Bulldogs claiming a 9-6 advantage with one run scored.
Bryan had Ryan LaFever relieve to begin the top of the fourth, and giving Tennessee Wesleyan a free base from a walk wasn’t a good move as the Bulldogs hit another two-run homer to go ahead 11-6.
Weinburger answered for the Lions in the bottom of the frame when he followed the first two outs with a solo shot over the fence to slim the margin to 11-7.
The Bulldogs showed no hesitation in countering during the fifth inning with back-to-back jacks to being their turn. They didn’t stop there as a double and another hit that the Lions misplayed added another run on to jump back up to 14-7.
The homerun derby ran into the bottom of the fifth when Behrent homered on a 1-1 count, Garcia singled, and Burris went the distance with a long shot that went beyond the fence for three runs tacked on to their total. Through five innings, the Lions trailed 14-10.
Chad Burrows, Bryan’s key closer, came in during the top of the sixth and kept the Bulldogs off the board as the Lions drew within three runs of Tennessee Wesleyan. Weinburger singled in the sixth, and he traveled home when Morhardt connected for a double, making the score 14-11.
A single, walk, and hit by pitch gave the Bulldogs a chance at insurance runs in the final inning as they loaded the bases with no outs. A sac-fly hit to center scored one runner, and a double that followed recorded two more runs for Tennessee Wesleyan to control a 17-11 edge.
Garcia led off in the bottom of the seventh, as Bryan needed at least six runs to stay alive. He did his part by clobbering his second homerun of the season to close the gap to five at 17-12. Burris was clutch as he hammered a consecutive homerun for the Lions, bringing the score 17-13 with no outs. A walk was the only other time a Lion reached base as Tennessee Wesleyan got Bryan to fly out, line out, and strike out to end the game.
Burris led Bryan with two homeruns, three RBIs, and three runs scored when he went 2-of-3 at the plate. Garcia led the Lions in hits, going 3-of-4 with three runs scored, two runs batted in, and one homer. Behrent made the most of his one hit by sending it over the fence, and Weinburger collected the other homerun for Bryan along with two runs scored and two hits. Salyers had two RBIs, which is the most he’s had in a game this season. Morhardt was 2-of-4 with two doubles, one RBI, and one run scored. Rita had one double in his 1-of-3 performance with one run batted in. Zuttermeister had the only other hit for the Lions, connecting on 1-of-4 with one run scored.
The loss was given to Parrish, who is now 1-3 this season. He relieved starting pitcher, Legault, and gave up two runs off two hits with one strikeout. Legault worked through 1.2 innings, surrendering four hits and six runs, five earned, after walking three and striking out three. Glass saw one inning and had one hit and two runs, one earned, posted against him. He struggled with four walks, while also recording one strikeout. LaFever saw two outs and allowed one hit, one run, and two walks. Four hits and three runs, which two were earned, were produced against Miguel Lopez who tossed 1.1 innings. Burrows closed the final two innings as the Bulldogs added three more hits and runs to their total while facing him.
Up next for Bryan is a challenging three-game series with fellow conference opponent and 24th ranked Reinhardt University (Ga.) this upcoming weekend, Mar. 24 & 25. The Lions and Eagles will meet at 5pm on Friday and begin play on Saturday at 12pm.