After the NAIA tournament brackets were unveiled, USCB baseball was itching for another duel against Southeastern. On Monday afternoon in Winter Haven, Florida, the Sand Sharks earned that shot.
Leandy Castro and Kyran Russ belted a pair of three-run homers, propelling USCB to a 7-4 win over Fisher (Mass.) in the NAIA Opening Round Lakeland Bracket to set up a Sun Conference rematch with the Fire.
After a 1-2-3 first from starter Micah Krieghauser, the Sand Sharks opened the scoring in the bottom half on a ringing double from Clint Sellers to go up 1-0. Then Castro came through in the third, clobbering the first pitch he saw over the left-field fence for his 12th homer of the season to plate three and make it a 4-0 advantage.
The Falcons put together a two-out rally in the fourth to cut the lead in half, as a Jonathan Rosado RBI-single put Fisher on the board before an infield error set up a Jordan Gosselin base hit to make it 4-2. But Russ came up clutch yet again for the Sand Sharks in the fifth, launching a three-run dinger to left and extending the lead to 7-2.
Mitchell Lundholm answered with a two-run blast in the top of the sixth to draw within three runs, but Krieghauser bounced back and retired three of the next four batters to finish off a strong outing on the mound. Fisher was threatening again in the top of the seventh after a Victor Torres single, but Nick Milhan made a spectacular play in center field to rob Cameron Pearson and keep the three-run lead intact.
Donovan Huneck dazzled on the mound with a 1-2-3 eighth, and Eamonn Collins shut the door in the ninth to earn the save and give USCB a tournament-opening 7-4 victory.
Krieghauser delivered a quality start for the Sand Sharks, scattering six hits while striking out five batters and walking just one to notch the victory. Huneck and Collins dominated the final three innings, giving up just one hit apiece and adding a pair of strikeouts. Castro and Russ shined at the plate with a home run and three RBI each, while Sellers went 1-for-2 with a double, a walk, and a run driven in.
USCB (32-21) returns to the diamond at 6:30 p.m. Monday to face top-seeded Southeastern in a rematch of the Sun Conference championship game. It will be the seventh meeting between the two squads this season, with the Fire leading the series 4-2.
By Wes Kerr