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Complete-game gem from Stevens propels No. 7 Panthers past Marietta, 3-1, in NCAA South Regional

Blake Stevens (photo by Cari Dean)
Blake Stevens (photo by Cari Dean)

DEMOREST, Ga.—In a pitcher's duel between No. 7 Birmingham-Southern's Blake Stevens and Marietta's Christian Herstine, the third-seeded Panthers held off fourth-seeded Marietta, 3-1, Wednesday evening on the opening day of the NCAA South Regional, hosted by Piedmont College.

The Panthers moved to 35-10-1, while the Pioneers fell to 28-17. 
Birmingham-Southern stays in the top half of the bracket to take on second-seeded Pacific Lutheran, Thursday at 7 p.m. EDT, while Marietta faces elimination and will square off with top-seeded Rhodes College Thursday at 3:30 p.m. EDT.

Both teams put a run up in the first before the starting pitchers settled in. It was the Panthers who untied the knot with solo runs in the sixth and seventh frames. Stevens (9-2, 1.13) was nearly unhittable, hurling a complete game, allowing one run on five hits and two walks, and striking out nine. Herstine (6-4, 1.85) matched Stevens until late in the game.

Birmingham-Southern left nine men on base, but scored its three runs on an RBI double in the first, a bases-loaded walk in the sixth, and a wild pitch in the seventh. Marietta set the tone early, but the 1-0 lead was short lived.

Marietta senior Chris Winpigler notched his 52nd RBI of the season with a sacrifice fly in first to bring home Tim McCoy for the game's first run. BSC retaliated with a run of its own in the home half. Junior Matt Brown doubled down the left field line and came in on sophomore Zach Wingate's RBI double down the opposite line.

McCoy appeared to put the Pioneers in business in the third with a one-out triple, but he was thrown out at home on a fielder's choice for a huge second out. Both starters, although rattled in the first, cruised through the next several innings. Herstine retired 13 of 14 hitters spanning the second through the sixth.

Herstine settled in nicely after the two doubles in the first, retiring eight of the next nine batters, allowing only one baserunner on a hit by pitch. The threat was immediately erased with an inning-ending double play.

Stevens was equally impressive early on, working around the one-out triple. He ran into trouble in the sixth when McCoy reached on an error and took second on a wild pitch. Stevens buckled down with a strikeout, fly out and groundout to retire the side and keep Marietta at bay.

Herstine also ran into trouble in the sixth. After retiring the first two on grounders to short, he surrendered back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners with two away. Sam Roberts added to the drama when he reached on catcher's interference, loading the bases. Senior David Bourbonnais drew a walk to bring in the go-ahead run for the Panthers. Herstine struck out the next batter to minimize the damage.

Herstine began to wear down in the seventh, again loading the bases on two singles and a walk before uncorking a wild pitch on a strikeout, making it 3-1 in favor of Birmingham-Southern. With two outs and the bases still full, junior Taylor McCracken tried to dash home on a pitch that got away from Winpigler. The catcher fired to Herstine who made the tag at the plate to end the inning.

Stevens cruised through the next two innings, taking the hill in the ninth with already 111 pitches to his name. His final strikeout to end the game put him at 129 pitches on the night.

The Panthers snapped a two-game losing skid, having won nine out of their previous ten before falling twice to Rhodes College, the top seed in the South Regional, last weekend for the Southern Athletic Association title. Marietta's three-game win streak was snapped with tonight's loss.

Wingate and sophomore David Scott had two hits each for the Panthers, accounting for half of the team's total. Senior Ryan Hanahan also tallied half of his team's hits, leading Marietta with two. Herstine went seven strong innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and three walks, striking out four. David Stover tossed a scoreless eighth for the Pioneers.

Recap courtesy of PiedmontLions.com.