Before his first season as head coach of USCB began, Ted Falkner preached to his team the importance of giving it all on every pitch. On a Saturday afternoon in Florida, his Sand Sharks put it all together in a miraculous comeback to reach the Sun Conference Tournament championship game.
After overcoming a three-run ninth-inning deficit, catcher Brevon Harper walked it off in the 10th to complete a 6-5 come-from-behind victory over Warner in West Palm Beach, Florida, sending the Sand Sharks into an unlikely date with NAIA No. 2 Southeastern in Sunday’s championship round.
USCB started the contest with a bang in the first inning, as Kyran Russ took Ryley Rozar deep for a two-run homer to open the scoring. The Royals cut into the lead with an RBI groundout in the second to make it 2-1, but Matt Malatesta stayed strong on the mound, maintaining the one-run advantage for the rest of his five-inning start.
The Sand Shark lead didn’t last much longer, as Warner broke through with the tying run in the sixth before plating three in the seventh on a pair of hits alongside three USCB errors to grab a 5-2 edge. After stranding one on base in the eighth inning, the Sand Sharks had three outs left to claim a spot in the championship game.
Payton MacPherson shut down the Royals in the top half of the ninth, and Falkner’s squad got the bats ready for another astonishing rally. Brian Meyer started it off with a single and Nick Milhan ripped a double, putting runners on second and third with no outs. USCB kept the rally rolling, as Meyer scored on a fielder’s choice while an error moved the tying run to scoring position. Tavaris Terrell kept the line moving, poking a single into right to cut the lead to one.
Then Clint Sellers delivered the clutch game-tying hit, drilling a one-out single to incredibly knot the game at 5. The winning run was just 90 feet away with just a single out recorded, but John Bean escaped the jam to push the contest into extra innings.
MacPherson impressed again in the top of the 10th, facing the minimum thanks to an inning-ending double play. The Sand Sharks got right to it in the bottom half, as Meyer ripped the first pitch he saw for a leadoff single before a Milhan hit-by-pitch put two on with nobody out. Meyer beautifully swiped third base during the ensuing at-bat, and Harper delivered the final blow, blooping a single into the outfield to score Meyer and advance the Sand Sharks to an improbable Sun Conference championship game.
It was a phenomenal effort on the mound, as Malatesta set the tone with five strong innings with just one run allowed while MacPherson kept the Sand Sharks alive before earning the win thanks to 3 2-3 innings of scoreless ball, surrendering just one hit. Meyer and Milhan collected two hits each including a pair to set up the walk-off victory in the 10th. Russ drove in two with a first-inning homer, and Harper finished the job with the game-winning hit.
USCB (31-19) eyes its first-ever Sun Conference Tournament championship on Sunday in a rematch against Southeastern at 11 a.m. The Sand Sharks stunned the top-seeded Fire 10-6 in Thursday’s opening game of the tournament. The Fire will need two consecutive wins to snatch the title, while the Sand Sharks can clinch the crown with a single victory.
By Wes Kerr