In a weekend series they desperately needed, Ted Falkner and the USCB Sand Sharks found lightning in a bottle Friday and Saturday, earning a pair of magical walk-off wins in a massive three-game home sweep over Warner to get themselves right back in the Sun Conference postseason race.
The Sand Sharks rode the momentum of their upset over 11th-ranked Middle Georgia State in the first game on Friday, scoring a pair of runs in the first inning thanks to an Alexander Humphrey double and Nick Milhan single. Both sides exchanged a run each in the third inning, but the visiting Royals captured control with six unanswered runs to go up 7-3 going into the bottom of the sixth. USCB then began to chip away, as Tim Wood drove in a clutch two-RBI single with two outs to cut the lead in half.
The Royals tacked on an important insurance run in the top of the ninth to take a three-run advantage, but the Sand Sharks again found some incredible late magic. After loading the bases with one out, Milhan drove one to the outfield for a sacrifice fly, Tavaris Terrell closed the gap to one with a single, and Wood was hit by a pitch after a walk to tie the score at 8, forcing extra innings for the second straight game.
The Royals left two runners on base in the 10th, and USCB ignited the offense once again in the bottom half. With runners on first and second with one out, a throwing error off the bat of Alexander Humphery scored Clint Sellers from second base to complete a remarkable 9-8 comeback win.
The Sand Sharks collected 15 hits in the series-opening victory with Wood, Sellers, Kyran Russ, and Leandy Castro racking up three each. Payton MacPherson earned the win on the mound, throwing a strong four and one-third innings while giving up just one run and striking out three.
USCB kept the mojo going in the second game of the day, scoring seven unanswered runs including at least one in each of the first four innings to take a 7-0 lead. The visiting Royals started a comeback in the middle innings, plating three combined runs on the scoreboard in the fifth and sixth to trim the lead to 7-3.
Sand Shark ace Matt Malatesta shut down Warner’s come-from-behind bid the rest of the way. Castro roped a double to give USCB an insurance run in the eighth, and Malatesta finished the job in the ninth to earn his first save of the season.
The senior threw the game’s final four innings and gave up just one run on two hits while picking up seven strikeouts. Micah Krieghauser set the tone at the start, pitching five solid frames with six strikeouts in his second win of the year. Castro led the charge on offense with a 3-for-5 day with a double, Russ collected a pair of hits and RBI, and Sellers clobbered a solo home run.
The Sand Sharks came back out on Saturday looking for the sweep and started off the game matching Warner’s three-run first-inning output with RBI-hits from Humphrey and Milhan. Both squads looked to keep their hot offenses going, but each side cooled off in the ensuing three innings, leaving a combined eight runners left on base.
USCB came through in the fifth to take the lead, adding a run with the help of a pair of Royal errors and a Milhan single to go on top 4-3. Warner snatched the lead back with a run in both the sixth and seventh innings, but Eamonn Collins made sure that the deficit stayed at one.
Then the comeback kids struck again in the bottom of the ninth. Reliable leadoff hitter Leandy Castro started the rally with a single through the left side, pinch-runner Wesley Ambrose advanced to second on a groundout, and Russ belted an opposite-field triple to score Ambrose and tie the game at 5.
After Warner made a pitching change, a pair of intentional walks loaded the bases. Tavaris Terrell was plunked by the ensuing pitch, scoring Russ and finishing off an improbable three-game sweep of the Royals while clinching the first USCB baseball Sun Conference sweep since 2017 also against Warner.
Milhan and Humphrey were sensational at the plate in the finale, going 3-for-4 each while Milhan drove in two runs and Humphrey finished a home run shy of the cycle. Collins kept the Sand Sharks alive on the mound, throwing two and two-thirds innings allowing no runs or walks and just two hits to earn the victory.
By Wes Kerr