Those at the Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville on Thursday afternoon seemed to agree that USC Beaufort pitcher Andrew Barrineau caught Nico Hernandez's popped-up bunt attempt in the 10th inning against St. Thomas.
What happened after that, though, is a difference of opinion.
"I caught the ball, honestly," Barrineau said.
What appeared to be an inning-ending double play against the Bobcats turned into a game-winning rally for St. Thomas, which sent USCB to the losers bracket with a 6-3 victory on the first day of the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round.
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"It's a tough one to swallow, but we have a chance to come back and win a few more games here and hopefully get back in that championship game," Barrineau said.
The Sand Sharks reliever, who took the hard-luck loss, issued a leadoff walk to start the 10th before the game unraveled. After forcing a fielder's choice, the right-hander appeared to snag Hernandez's attempted sacrifice near the first base line before the two ran into one another. Believing he had the out on interference at least, Barrineau fired to second for the force out and apparent double play.
But instead, the four-man umpiring crew ruled the redshirt junior dropped the ball prior to the collision, awarding Hernandez first base in the process.
"They did what I asked them to and meet and talk about it," Sand Sharks coach Bryan Lewallyn said. "That's what they decided. It's tough, but that's what they decided."
What followed were three consecutive base hits for St. Thomas, including run scoring singles up the middle by Giovanni Zayas and Nicholas Perez. Dane Stone then closed it out in the bottom half of the frame.
The loss spoiled a strong start by left-hander Michael Heesch, who allowed just three earned runs with seven strikeouts in nine innings of work. The only hiccup endured by the Sun Conference's Pitcher of the Year came in the seventh, when he surrendered a trio of runs on four consecutive singles.
"There's no question that Mike is a special guy," Lewallyn said. "Not only is he very talented, but he battles his butt off every time he gets a chance."
The Sand Sharks had taken a two-run lead after three innings thanks to Weldon Smith's RBI double in the second and Gabe Torres' RBI single in the next frame. USCB would then tie it up at three runs apiece in the eighth after R.J. Neal lifted a bases-loaded sacrifice fly to center field.
But St. Thomas (44-12) worked around trouble on multiple occasions before rallying to take the lead. USCB (35-17) stranded 11 men on base -- including two with two out in the ninth -- before falling to the Bobcats for the third time in four tries this season.
"They got the better of us already this year," Barrineau said. "We were looking to get a little bit of revenge today. We had it and we just let it slip."
USCB may get another chance at revenge later in this opening round. But first, the Sand Sharks must stave off elimination today at 10 a.m. against fifth-seeded Asbury (Ky.), which lost 7-1 to Union (Tenn.) on Thursday morning. USCBC lefty Adam Miller (8-5, 3.23 ERA) will get the start against the Eagles, who earned their first postseason bid in school history despite an 0-17 start to the season.
"We definitely know we have the opportunity to come back and that we have the ball players," Barrineau said. "We're definitely not down and out, that's for sure."
St. Thomas 6, USC Beaufort 3
St. Thomas 000 000 300 3 -- 6 12 2
USCB 011 000 010 0 -- 3 9 4
WP: Dane Stone (5-1) 1 1-3 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 0 BB, 3 K.
LP: Andrew Barrineau (4-1) 1 IP, 3 R, 3 ER, 3 H, 1 BB, 1 K.
Top Hitters: St. Thomas -- Nicholas Perez 2 for 5, 2 RBI; Giovanni Zayas 2 for 5, RBI; Victor Madrazo 2 for 5; Hector Bello 1 for 4, RBI; Elio Rey 1 for 4; RBI. USCB -- R.J. Neal 3 for 4, RBI; Dylan Nasiatka 2 for 4; Weldon Smith 1 for 3, RBI; Gabe Torres 1 for 4, RBI.
Union (Tenn.) 3, Faulkner (Ala.) 1
Right-hander Will Irvin struck out eight in a six-hitter, and Doug Joyce had three hits and two RBIs to lead No. 4 seed Union (Tenn.) to a 3-1 upset of top-seeded Faulkner (Ala.) in the final game of the day.
The Bulldogs (39-17-1) won twice Thursday to advance to a 2 p.m. matchup with No. 2 seed St. Thomas on Friday. They beat No. 5 seed Asbury (Ky.) 7-1 in the day's first game.
The fifth-ranked Eagles (48-12) scored first on Craig Massey's RBI infield single in the third, but they managed little else against Irvin. They had only one baserunner after the fifth inning, and Irvin (9-2) retired the last seven hitters of the game.
The Bulldogs tied it in the sixth, when Kody Pinson drew a bases-loaded walk from Will Dismukes (9-2), and they scored two more on Joyce's bases-loaded double to right-center in the seventh.
Faulkner drops into the losers bracket and will face the USC Beaufort-Asbury winner at 6 p.m. today in an elimination game.
-- From wire reports
Union (Tenn.) 7, Asbury (Ky.) 1
No. 4 seed Union (Tenn.) broke up a pitchers' duel with a five-run eighth inning and pulled away for a 7-1 win over No. 5 seed Asbury (Ky.) in the opening game of the tournament.
Asbury's Isaiah Bell and Union's Jared Davis were locked in a scoreless duel until Union (38-17-1) broke through on Will Irvin's RBI single in the seventh.
The Eagles (18-38) came back to tie it in the bottom of the inning on Danny Olszowy's RBI double to right.
But the Bulldogs finally solved Bell (4-6) in the eighth, as he loaded the bases before exiting with no outs. Cole McAdams gave the Bulldogs the lead with a sacrifice fly, and Kody Pinson also had an RBI double in the big inning.
Davis (5-5) held the Eagles to one run on seven hits over seven innings, and Cody Dew pitched two scoreless innings of relief.
Brett Pawlan and Kian Jost had two hits apiece for Union.
Casey Messner, Simeon Bell and Matt Cox had two hits apiece for Asbury, which falls into the losers bracket and faces USC Beaufort at 10 a.m. today.
-- From wire reports