HARDEEVILLE, S.C. — No need for late-inning magic this time. No nail-biting drama. This one was as easy-going as one could possibly expect under such circumstances.
In the biggest game in the four-year history of the program, the University of South Carolina Beaufort broke the game open with an eight-run fourth inning and cruised to an 11-2 win over St. Thomas (Fla.) to win the Hardeeville Bracket of the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round and clinch the school’s first berth in the Avista-NAIA World Series.
The Sand Sharks are the No. 8 seed in the NAIA World Series and will open play against No. 9 seed Rogers State (Okla.) at noon Pacific time (3 p.m. EST) on Friday, May 25.
The Bobcats handed USCB its only loss in the tournament on Thursday’s opening day, but the Sand Sharks (40-17) rebounded to win five consecutive elimination games, including back-to-back wins over St. Thomas.
The latter wasn’t in doubt after the fourth-inning outburst.
Both teams’ aces came back on three days’ rest to start the finale, and USCB’s Michael Heesch was up to the task. Heesch (9-2) allowed only two unearned runs on five hits over six innings for the win — and fellow senior left-hander Adam Miller returned three days after throwing a complete game to toss three scoreless innings for the save.
St. Thomas ace Danny Sanchez cruised through the first three innings, but he was only able to record one out in the fourth, as USCB’s offense erupted.
Ty Main tripled into the right-field corner to drive in the first run, Conald Mansfield followed with an RBI double, and Gabe Torres singled to score Mansfield. A St. Thomas error allowed two more runs to score, then David O’Neil singled home the sixth run of the inning. Dylan Nasiatka‘s two-run double to right-center capped the big inning.
The Sand Sharks put it away on Brandon Collins‘ three-run home run to right, and after the final out, they dived into a dog pile on the infield grass and drenched first-year coach Bryan Lewallyn with the water bucket.
Mansfield and Torres each had three hits, an RBI and two runs scored, Nasiatka was 2-for-5 with two RBIs, and Collins was 2-for-4 with three RBIs and scored twice.
The Sand Sharks eliminated each of the other four teams in the bracket and finished with five of the seven home runs hit in the tournament.
USCB is one of two first-time qualifiers for the Avista-NAIA World Series, along with Rogers State, the Sand Sharks’ first-round opponent.