It took a four-RBI performance by senior Cameron Brewster, several sparkling defensive plays, and solid pitching to allow Lee to slip past Hiwassee College 4-3 and claim the NCCAA Mid-East Championship on Thursday afternoon at Olympic Field.
The Flames earned a spot in the NCCAA World Series, which is scheduled to begin in Mason, Ohio Wednesday. Several other regions are still being decided and more details on the opponents and other tourney information should be available by the weekend.
Said coach Mark Brew, “We are excited to be going to the NCCAA World Series. From what I have heard they do an exceptional job running the tournament. In addition, I think the field will be strong considering all the former NAIA schools that are transitioning to NCAA Division II. It’s another great opportunity for our program and we are looking forward to it.”
Lee built up what looked like a commanding 4-0 lead in the top of the seventh inning. Brewster put the Flames on top 1-0 in the second inning with a sacrifice fly that scored Zac Hawkins. He came back in the seventh and blasted a three-run homer over the right-field fence that scored Hawkins and Nate Wierzgac, who had reached on a critical error by the Tigers.
“First of all, I want to commend Hiwassee on how well they competed throughout the tournament,” remarked Brew after the rugged battle ended. “They battled us toe- to-toe and played an exceptional game.” Earlier in the day the Tigers had battled back through the loser’s bracket and earned the right to face the Flames by upsetting Union University, 5-3.
Starting Lee pitcher Dustin Lawson coasted through the first six innings for the Flames, giving up only four hits before running into trouble in the bottom of the seventh. Randell Coley opened the frame with a double. Chris Large was hit by a pitch and with one out, Cody Armstrong laced a RBI single that scored Coley. Garrison Sisson followed with another one-base hit that scored Large, making it a 4-2 contest. Brew went to the bullpen and called on lefty Grayson Bailey.
Cameron Smith immediately put down a sacrifice bunt that scored Armstrong and all of a sudden it was a 4-3 game. Bailey got Josh Cassidy to ground out to short and end the Tiger uprising.
The eighth inning got even more exciting when Dalton Harrelson drew an one-out walk. Brew again went to the mound and ordered ace reliever Jeremy Bales to come on and try to end another threat. The senior sub-mariner quickly induced a ground ball to second-baseman Zack Zybert who flipped the baseball to shortstop Josh Silver for the force and he fired a strike to first to complete the double play.
Hiwassee mounted a serious threat in the ninth. With one out, Byran Woodlief and Armstrong stroked back-to-back singles. Brew wasted no time in getting out of the dugout and this time summoned lefty Derrick Pitts to the mound. Sisson drilled a hot-shot at Lee third-baseman Jordan Stewart who quickly stepped on third and then threw to first-baseman Hawkins to turn another double play and touch off a celebration near the pitcher’s mound.
“I am really proud of how our team found a way to get it done,” the coach added. “We didn’t play really well, but we utilized some big defensive plays from (Jordan) Stewart and (Josh) Silver to turn back their offense. (Cameron) Brewster’s big swing helped us find a way to win the game. (Dustin) Lawson also turned in a solid starting performance.”
Hiwassee out-hit Lee 9-7 but the Flames played errorless baseball and turned three important double plays, which has become a trademark of a club that is now 33-17 and has won 10 straight games. Siosi Poti, Silver, Blake Ray, and Zybert joined Hawkins, Brewster and Stewart with one hit apiece. For the Tigers, Armstrong and Sisson each had a pair of hits.
Lawson picked up the pitching victory and improved to 6-3 on the year. Pitts was credited with his sixth save. Andrew Hyatt, who pitched excellent baseball, was charged with the defeat. Forrest McKane came on in the seventh and followed with 2 2-3 of hitless baseball.