NEWBERRY — In a game in doubt until its final pitch, Newberry prevailed over Erskine in a 5-4 thriller Wednesday night at the Smith Road Complex.
Newberry (13-12) scored all five of its runs in the fifth through seventh innings and got a brilliant effort from each of its four pitchers, most notably a gritty save from reliever Charlie Fessler, to upend the Southeast Region’s eighth-ranked team.
The turning point in the game came in the seventh inning, which Newberry entered clinging to a 3-2 lead. The Flying Fleet (18-7) got its first three runners aboard on a single sandwiched between two Wolves’ errors. The third error of the inning, a dropped fly ball in right, allowed Erskine to score a run and loaded the bases for Taylor Maxey.
The Erskine left fielder faced a 1-2 count when he hit a sharp comebacker to Christian Zellner on the mound, who threw home to begin a 1-2-3 double play. Maxey arrived nearly simultaneously with the ball at first but was called out due to interference.
The runners that were not put out on the play had to return to their original bases, turning a potential bases-loaded, one-out situation into a less foreboding one with Erskine runners at first and second and two away. A fielder’s choice quashed the threat four pitches later.
Newberry wasted no time in reclaiming the lead, scoring two runs on just one hit in the bottom of the frame. Jason Taylor secured the first on a bases-loaded walk, while Harrison Kinard drove in a second two pitches later when he was plunked by a pitch.
Of the Wolves’ other three runs scored, only Peyton Spangler’s lone run in the sixth was scored on a base hit, a single up the middle by Tommy Passerello. Newberry’s two runs in the fifth came courtesy of another bases-loaded walk and a passed ball.
Erskine drew within a run on a passed ball in the eighth, but stranded two runners on the basepaths. The first two runners reached in the ninth before Fessler was called upon for the save opportunity.
The first batter he faced sacrificed the runners up 90 feet, placing the tying run at third base and the go-ahead run in scoring position. But Fessler was up to the task. He fought back from a 2-0 count to strike out eight-hole hitter Tyler Bond, the fifth Erskine player to occupy that spot in the lineup, with a swing and a miss on an inside fastball.
Second baseman William Ruby suffered a nearly identical fate, succumbing to a called third strike that caught the inside corner and seal the drama-laden win for Newberry.
Zellner, a junior college transfer, earned the first win of his Newberry career with a gutsy seven-inning performance. He allowed three runs, none of which were earned, and scattered eight hits.
Newberry notched the win despite trailing 10-6 in the hit column and committing five errors to Erskine’s one. The Flying Fleet, however, stranded 14 runners on base, including exactly two runners in six different innings. Erskine’s offense, which entered the contest ranked 20th in Division II in runs scored, failed to push across a single earned run in the contest.
Newberry returns to South Atlantic Conference play this weekend with a three-game set against Carson-Newman. First pitch Friday night is set for 6 p.m. with a 1 p.m. doubleheader on tap for Saturday.