FORT MYERS, Fla. -- A matchup of the top two Sun Conference baseball teams from the regular season will happen under different circumstances than expected at the league tournament, as both top-seeded Embry-Riddle and No. 2 USC Beaufort lost their tournament openers Tuesday.
The upsets mean the Eagles and Sand Sharks will meet at 10 a.m. today in an elimination game.
The Sand Sharks -- who moved up two spots to No. 13 in the NAIA Top 25 Coaches Poll released Tuesday -- appeared to have the early edge in claiming their first conference tournament title after No. 6 seed SCAD Savannah beat the Eagles 7-1 in the tournament's first game. But the day of the underdogs continued when No. 5 seed Warner beat USCB 7-2 in the second game of the day.
USCB had the conference's pitcher of the year, Michael Heesch, on the mound -- the Sand Sharks had lost only one of Heesch's 14 previous starts this season -- but Warner entered as the league's hottest team, having won four of its last five games to slip into the final playoff spot on the final day of the season.
The Royals (29-27) continued their hot streak by jumping on Heesch early. Unlike the first meeting, when Heesch (8-2) shut out Warner on six hits, the Royals scored three runs in the third and added single runs against him in the fifth, sixth and seventh. Warner added another run in the eighth against freshman Junior Delatorre -- the first earned run he has allowed this season.
USCB (35-15) couldn't muster a rally against right-handers Aaron Kehres and James Krupa, who held the Sand Sharks to five hits -- all singles. USCB scratched across two runs in the fifth against Kehres (9-3), who allowed four hits and walked four in seven innings, but they got nothing more, as Krupa held them to one hit over the final two innings.
R.J. Neal had two hits to lead USCB's offense, and Dylan Nasiatka went 1 for 3 with an RBI.
The loser of today's matchup between USCB and sixth-ranked Embry-Riddle will be eliminated from the league tournament, but both teams are assured of bids in the NAIA National Championship Opening Round next week. Both have been designated as host sites.