Blake Cilwick delivered a pinch-hit RBI single in the ninth inning to score the go-ahead run, and USC Beaufort staved off elimination for the fourth time in two days with a 5-4 win Saturday over St. Thomas (Fla.) in the NAIA Baseball National Championship Opening Round at Richard Gray Sports Complex in Hardeeville.
The Sand Sharks and Bobcats have split two meetings in the tournament and will play again at 1 p.m. Monday with the winner advancing to the Avista-NAIA World Series in Lewiston, Idaho, from May 25 to June 1.
"These guys just never give up," USC Beaufort head coach Bryan Lewallyn said. "They've played four games in two days, and it has been a 100 percent collective team effort. These guys have really battled."
After rallying from a 5-0 deficit in their first game of the day against Union (Tenn.), the Sand Sharks found themselves in a 3-0 hole against St. Thomas.
Antonio Sepulveda opened the scoring with a solo home run to left in the third, and Victor Madrazo added an RBI single later in the inning. Giovanni Zayas added an RBI double in the fifth to make it 3-0.
The Sand Sharks (39-17) rallied in the sixth, scoring four runs to take the lead.
David O'Neil and R.J. Neal beat out infield hits with one out, and O'Neil stole third and scored when the throw went into left field. Dylan Nasiatka followed with an RBI double to cut the lead to 3-2, then Ty Main blasted his team-leading fifth home run to left to give USCB its first lead.
The Bobcats (45-13) tied it on Ricky Claudio's sacrifice fly in the seventh, but the Sand Sharks mustered some ninth-inning magic for the second consecutive game.
Gabe Torres, whose two-run single drove in the winning run against Union, singled to lead off the inning and moved to second on Brandon Collins' sacrifice bunt. Dom Hayes singled to right to put runners at the corners, and Cilwick hit a chopper past Madrazo at third to score the winning run.
"They have stayed focused on their swings," Lewallyn said of his pinch-hitters' success. "They understand when their numbers are called, they have to do their best."
Colton Rudd breezed through a 1-2-3 ninth to seal the win. Rudd (2-2) allowed two runs, one earned, on one hits over five innings of relief for the win -- a night after getting a two-inning save against top-seeded Faulkner (Ala.).
USC Beaufort 8, Union 7
Down to its last out, USC Beaufort scored three runs with two outs in the ninth to cap an improbable comeback from a five-run deficit and staved off elimination for the third consecutive game with an 8-7 win over Union (Tenn.).
The Sand Sharks scored four runs in the top of the ninth -- capped by Gabe Torres' two-run single up the middle to give USCB its first lead -- and sealed the win on R.J. Neal's acrobatic diving catch in left-center field to prevent the tying run from scoring and record the final out.
The Bulldogs (39-19-1) staked starter Jacob Alexander to a 5-0 lead by scoring in each of the first four innings. But reliever Kyle McCullough (3-1) held them to three runs, one earned, over the final six innings to allow USCB a chance to rally.
The comeback began with four runs in the sixth, when Torres got USCB on the board with a sacrifice fly and Brandon Collins followed with a three-run home run to right field to cut it to 5-4.
"Brandon is the epitome of Sand Shark baseball," Lewallyn said. "Even when he hasn't been playing, he is the emotional leader of this team."
Union scored two unearned runs in the eighth to extend the lead to 7-4, and it looked like the host Sand Sharks' season was winding down.
But pinch hitters Blake Cilwick and Dom Hayes started the ninth with consecutive singles, and David O'Neil lofted a sacrifice fly to make it 7-5. Neal followed with a single, and an error with two outs allowed Ty Main to reach to load the bases.
Torres then delivered his two-run single up the middle to put the Sand sharks ahead for good.
A leadoff single by R.J. Rayborn and a sacrifice bunt put the tying run in scoring position for Union, but O'Neil snared a line drive at third for the second out, and Neal laid out to rob Brett Pawlan of extra bases and end the game.