Lee University coach Mark Brew wasted no time in using that phrase and praising his Flames after a thrilling 4-3 victory over Gulf South Conference opponent North Alabama on Sunday afternoon at Olympic Field. The triumph gave Lee the two games to one series win.
"What a great team win by our guys," said an excited Brew. "We had lots of players contributing in key moments of the game. (Pitcher) Jeremy Bales was simply outstanding in relief and kept us in the game until we could scratch those runs late. (Derrick) Pitts had a huge day with two big hits and RBIs at the plate. He came on to pitch and closed the game out in the ninth, plus he threw a big runner out at the plate from right field in the middle innings."
Brew went on to say, "It was one of our best offensive-execution performances. We did an excellent job playing ‘small ball’ and moving runners and making the most of our hits."
He also added, "I am really proud of how our guys responded after struggling in game one of the series. They could've easily quit, but they need to be commended for how well they stuck with it and found a way to win the next two games and an important Gulf South Conference series. Hopefully, this can create some momentum into next week with old rival Bryan coming to town on Wednesday and then another big GSC series at Valdosta (Ga.) State over the weekend."
The Flames jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Siosi Poti singled, stole second and went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Andres Nelo. He scored on an error by the Lion third baseman. Blake Ray picked up an RBI on the play.
North Alabama bounced back and tied the contest in the third. Tyler Hall led off the inning with a double and Jake Ward followed with a two-base knock that scored Hall. Brett Guzay tied the game with a single. Coach Brew quickly went to the mound and removed starting pitcher Rob Gustitus and called Bales to the mound. "Gustitus was pitching OK, but I felt like we needed to bring in Bales, who has been lights out all year."
The move worked to perfection. Not only did the senior right-hander silence the Lion bats in the third, he went on to pitch 5 2/3 innings, allowing only three hits and no earned runs. Bales got credit for his third win of the year and Pitts came on in the ninth to record his third save.
North Alabama went on top 3-2 in the fifth and threatened to do even more damage. Payton Thomas reached on an infield hit and Ward was safe on a throwing error. Guzay scored Thomas with a ground ball out and Dylan Boston drilled a line drive to right field. Pitts made the catch and Ward, who was stationed at third, tagged up and attempted to score. A perfect strike by Pitts allowed Lee catcher Nathan Wierzgac to tag Ward out for a big third out.
The Flames tied the contest in the sixth. Zac Hawkins led off the inning with a single and Ray was hit by a pitch. Josh Silver put down a perfect sacrifice bunt, moving Hawkins to third and Ray to second. Wierzgac allowed Lee to tie the score at three when he singled home Hawkins.
Lee pushed across what turned out to be the winning run in the bottom of the seventh inning. Jordan Stewart put down a bunt that the North Alabama third-baseman could not handle. Poti sacrificed Stewart to second and Pitts came up with his second key hit of the afternoon when he ripped a single to right that scored Stewart.
The Lions threatened to strike back in the top of the eighth inning. With two outs, Jake Smith walked and took third on a single by Hall. Thomas sliced a liner down the left-field line. Cameron Brewster got a great jump and made the running catch to not only end the inning but keep North Alabama from scoring at least one and maybe two runs.
It was a defensive battle from start to finish. The Lions outhit the Flames 6-5 and used three pitchers to control the Lee bats. Kyle Conkle started and pitched five innings. He allowed just two hits and one earned run but he walked four patient Lee hitters. Austin Carpenter pitched the next two innings and was charged with the defeat. He surrendered three hits and one earned run. Gustitus hurled 2 1/3 innings for the Flames. The freshman gave up two earned runs and three hits.
The Flames have a date with non-conference rival Bryan College on Wednesday at 6 p.m. at Olympic Field. "Bryan has defeated us on our own field the last two times we've played," pointed out Brew. "Hopefully, we can build on the momentum from these two wins and carry it forward."