USC Beaufort baseball players donned sweatshirts, stuffed their equipment bags and trudged from the home dugout Saturday in Hardeeville at Richard Gray Baseball Complex, a routine as common as the end of another series.
But after 30 innings of baseball in two days against one of NAIA's top teams, stirring comebacks and charged moments, this had to have a little different meaning, right? Sand Sharks coach Rick Sofield didn't try to read much into the series, though, after his team dropped both games of Saturday's doubleheader with Embry-Riddle.
USCB had won in dramatic fashion Friday night to take the first game against the Eagles. But in Saturday's opener, pitching dominated in a 2-0 Embry-Riddle win. And the Eagles forged a late rally during the rubber match, leading the No. 6 team in NAIA to a 10-7 victory in 10 innings.
Embry-Riddle (22-3, 14-1 Sun Conference) took the series, but in the process dropped its first conference game. The Sand Sharks (16-8, 6-6) were three outs from taking a series from the league's best team, but watched it slip away.
"Every game's hard to win, every game's tough to lose," Sofield said. "We're in a tough conference. Every time we play, it's hard."
The Eagles scored three in the ninth to force extra innings and pushed across four more in the 10th against Sand Sharks reliever Weldon Smith. All the day proved, Sofield said, was that Embry-Riddle was the better team, that it was time to move on to more baseball.
Fortunately for the Sand Sharks, a previously scheduled home doubleheader today was canceled due to travel conflicts. Sofield's team will have time to rest and reflect on what might have gone differently against Embry-Riddle.
The Sand Sharks won Friday when Larry Perry delivered a two-out, run-scoring single in the 11th. Sofield called the victory among the biggest in school history.
With ace Dexter Price on the mound to start Game 2 on Saturday, USCB looked to be in good shape. But Eagles pitcher Ryan Vigue (7-0) pitched nine scoreless innings, striking out 11 and not issuing a walk. Price pitched well enough to win, Sofield said.
Junior Michael Heesch started the second game of the twinbill for the Sand Sharks and struck out a career-high 12 through six innings before leaving after throwing more than 100 pitches. The Eagles rallied against Sand Sharks reliever Andres Castro in the ninth and later against Smith.
"We're a good team," Heesch said. "They just played better. There's nothing more to say."
Sand Sharks center fielder R.J. Neal had given his team the lead with a two-run double in the seventh, an inning Embry-Riddle coach Randy Stegall was tossed for arguing a call. Neal said he and his teammates grew tired of the zeroes on the board Saturday, that they stayed aggressive and swung at each pitch to their liking. USCB couldn't hold on, but Neal said the team proved something during the series.
"No team is unbeatable," Neal said. "And we proved that yesterday. We should have proved it today."
Embry-Riddle 100 000 100 -- 2 11 0
USCB 000 000 000 -- 0 4 1
WP: Ryan Vigue (7-0) 9 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 11 K
LP: Dexter Price (3-2) 8 IP, 9 H, 2, 2ER, 2 BB, 2 K
Top hitters: Embry-Riddle --Greg Smith 2 for 3, R; Adam Cellini 2 for 3, RBI.
Embry-Riddle 012 000 003 4 -- 10 12 8
USCB 000 001 320 1 -- 7 17 1
WP: Brandon Creath (3-1), 2 IP, 3 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 2 K
LP: Weldon Smith (1-2) 1.2 IP, 4 H, 4 R, 4 ER, 2 BB,
Top hitters: Embry-Riddle -- Ben Kline 3 for 5; Keaton Stroud 3 RBI. USCB -- David O'Neal 5 for 6, RBI, 2 R; Gabe Torres 2 for 4, RBI.
Next: USCB at Savannah State, 2 p.m. Wednesday