Ted Falkner came into his first year at USCB looking to lead his new team back to the Sun Conference tournament. On Saturday afternoon at Webber International, the Sand Sharks finished the job.
Blaize Minick set the tone again with another strong performance on the mound, and USCB claimed the third and final game of the series 7-2 after a pair of 18-8 and 6-5 losses to earn a conference tournament berth for the first time since 2017.
It was a rough start for Falkner’s group in the series opener, as Webber International erupted for a nine-run first inning Friday to take the commanding lead. The Sand Sharks cracked the scoreboard with an Alexander Humphrey homer in the second, but the Warriors tacked on four unanswered runs to balloon the lead to 13-1. Clint Sellers and Brian Meyer looked to spark a comeback with back-to-back fifth-inning home runs, and the trio of Nick Milhan, Tavaris Terrell, and Leandy Castro notched RBI-hits in the sixth and seventh to trim the lead to 15-8. Webber International then sealed the game in the home half of the seventh, plating three to claim the win via run-rule.
Meyer, Milhan, and Castro notched two hits each to pace USCB at the plate, while Sellers, Meyer, and Humphrey both launched a homer.
The Warriors kept the momentum going into game two on Saturday, posting a three-spot in the second inning to grab the advantage. USCB did one better in the third, putting up four on the board and taking a one-run lead. Marino Sorbara doubled down the left-field line to score one, Castro smashed a single up the middle to cut it to 3-2, and Humphrey added an RBI-hit to tie the game. Nick Milhan drove in the final tally of the frame via a sacrifice fly, giving his squad the 4-3 lead. The Warriors evened the contest in the fourth and snatched the lead back with another in the sixth. USCB had an opportunity in the seventh with the bases loaded, but cashed in with a ninth-inning run to tie the game at 5. Castro started the rally by reaching first thanks to a dropped third strike, and Russ made the Warriors pay with a double down the left-field line to score Leandy. Tucker Perry helped the Sand Sharks force extra innings with a scoreless bottom of the ninth, but Webber International came through in the end with an eleventh-inning walk-off sacrifice fly from Steven Lugo.
Humphrey and Milhan picked up two hits each to lead the offense, and Donavan Huneck was fantastic out of the bullpen, throwing two strong no-hit innings while adding two strikeouts.
After dropping the first two games, the Sand Sharks were down to their final opportunity to secure themselves a Sun Conference tournament berth. Webber International was looking to play spoiler to USCB’s plans, as the home team grabbed the early lead again on a Rougie Odor RBI-double. The Sand Sharks let a solid bases-loaded opportunity slip away in the second inning, but the visitors found their offense in the third with a booming double from Russ to score two and take a 2-1 lead. USCB then added on, as catcher Daniel Searles drove in Russ to make it a 3-1 game. The Warriors cut the lead to one with a single run in the bottom half, but the Sand Sharks struck right back with four unanswered to take control thanks to four combined RBIs from Castro and Humphrey. WIU looked to mount a comeback in the eighth, but the reliable Javier Saenz escaped the jam to keep the lead intact before closer Eamonn Collins shut the door in the ninth and gave USCB its first conference tournament berth since 2017.
Russ delivered another spectacular performance, going 2-for-2 with a double and three walks to go along with a pair of RBI. Milhan was 3-for-5 in the victory, while Sun Conference Player of the Week and NCBWA National Rookie of the Week Blaize Minick impressed again, going six innings and allowing just two runs with four strikeouts.
USCB (26-19, 11-13) closes out the regular season with a road doubleheader Tuesday against Brewton-Parker.
By Wes Kerr