CONWAY, S.C. - The VMI Keydets took an early 2-0 lead, but Coastal Carolina Chanticleer Rich Witten drove in three runs, capped by a solo walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth, helping Coastal to a 3-2 win over VMI Sunday afternoon in Big South baseball action in Conway, S.C.
After Witten drove in two runs in the sixth to tie the game, VMI (11-25, 4-11 Big South) had chances in the sixth, seventh and eighth, including loading the bases with one out in the eighth frame. The Keydets couldn't score, and the Coastal (24-11, 7-2 Big South) first baseman opened the ninth by hitting a 2-1 pitch from John Garrett over the left field wall to give the Chanticleers the victory, and series sweep.
Ryan Connolly earned the win in relief, going to 2-1 with 1 2/3 innings of hitless relief, including pitching out of trouble in the eighth inning. Garrett fell to 0-2 by taking the loss.
"I am proud of the way we competed all weekend," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "Our starting pitching did a great job. We just needed more timely hitting and we would have had different results. These three games may have been the best we played all year, and that is what you want to see out of a young team. I have said this before, but this is the hardest working team we have had at VMI."
Coastal threatened early against Keydet starter Campbell Henkel, as Alex Buccilli doubled with one out. After a fly out, Witten singled to right, but Jacob Morley fielded the ball and fired to catcher Matt Winn, in time for the Keydet backstop to tag out Buccilli and end the inning. It was Morley's fourth outfield assist of the season, and he then factored in the go-ahead rally the next half inning. Morley led off with a walk and moved up on a sacrifice bunt. Michael Donovan grounded out, but Cameron Walter lined a single to left, scoring Morley and giving VMI a 1-0 lead.
The Keydets added to that advantage in the third, when Rob Dickinson drilled a one-out double to right. George Piccirilli lined out, but Eric Mayers hit a hard ground ball to third that went through the legs of Coastal third baseman Tripp Martin. The error allowed Dickinson to score, and pushed VMI's lead to 2-0 against Coastal starter Austin Wallace.
Henkel then settled into a groove, as from the second inning through the fifth, he allowed only a lone third-inning single. The Keydets then got a runner to third with two out in the sixth, but Berkley Hawkins grounded to third to end the threat.
Jacob May led off the Coastal sixth with a single, and one out later, Daniel Bowman singled to end Henkel's day. Witten then greeted Reed Garrett with a double off the left-center field wall, scoring both runners and tying the game, 2-2.
Another runner made it to third with two outs in the Keydet seventh, but to no avail, and Reed Garrett set down the Coastal hitters in order in the seventh. That set up the crucial eighth, which Dickinson led off with his second double of the game. Piccirilli then put down a bunt against reliever Aaron Burke, which a charging Witten fielded and threw to third. The throw was high, but third baseman Chris Suseck jumped, came down with the ball and tagged Dickinson sliding head-first for the out.
That proved to be a vital play, as Mayers was hit by a pitch. Morley then hit a blooper into right-center field that May appeared to have a chance to catch, but the ball went in and out of his glove on a dive. Piccirilli was forced to hold at third, due to having to hold up to guard against the ball being caught, and the bases were loaded with one out. Connolly was summoned to face Brandon Diamond, and he struck out the Keydet pinch-hitter before Donovan bounced into a fielder's choice, ending the inning.
With one out in the Chanticleer eighth, May hit a long drive to left field on which Brandon Angus made a running, full extension catch. That also was an important moment, as the next batter, Buccilli, was hit by a pitch and advanced to second when John Garrett committed a throwing error. The Keydet closer, however, was able to retire Bowman to end the inning, but VMI went in order in the ninth against Connolly, setting the stage for Witten's game winner.
Neither starter figured in the decision, as Henkel went 5 1/3 innings, allowing two runs on five hits. VMI pitching did not record a strikeout or issue a walk on the day. Coastal starter Wallace went five innings, surrendering two runs (one earned) on three hits, while the Chanticleer bullpen allowed no runs on two hits over the final four frames.
Offensively, Dickinson was 2 for 4 with his two doubles, while Witten led the home team with a 3 for 4, three RBI game.
VMI baseball will return to action Wednesday, taking on James Madison in Harrisonburg, Va. Game time is set for 6:30 p.m.