Senior hits walk-off home run in critical CAA win for Seahawks
Mason Berne wasn’t about to let the recent momentum UNCW had built slip away.
After watching teammate Ryan Jeffers get hit by a pitch to start the bottom of the ninth, the senior stepped into the batter’s box. He only needed one offering to get the Seahawks back on the right track.
A two-run blast to left center provided a walk-off finish in a 6-5 win over the College of Charleston to start the final CAA regular season series. Game 2 is set for 6 p.m. Friday.
“We’ve got the momentum on our side right now. Like Jeffers said, we’re getting hot at the right time,” Berne said. “Pitching staff has been there for us all year. Now our bats are starting to come around and back those guys up and defense is playing solid D. We’re doing all the right things. We’re doing little things that add up to the big things.”
The victory keeps the Seahawks (33-19 overall, 14-8) alive in the hunt for one of the league’s top two spots and a bye in next week’s CAA Tournament.
UNCW blew a 3-0 lead by allowing the Cougars (34-17, 14-8) to plate four runs with two outs in the sixth. Jeffers would tie the game on a solo homer in the seventh, only to see CofC retake the lead in the top of the eighth.
That set the stage for the Seahawks in the ninth. Jeffers was clipped on the first pitch and moments later Berne took the second onto the berm in left. UNCW has now won seven of its last nine games, including wins over a top-10 North Carolina program and CAA frontrunners Northeastern and Charleston.
“The thing I do know is guys our playing with a lot more confidence and a lot more belief in one another. That makes a tremendous difference,” Scalf said. “Do we get more production because of it? I don’t know. But I do think that they believe they can put themselves in position to win a ball game and it’s just a matter of continuing to grind.”
If Alex Royalty’s career at UNCW concludes this season, his final outing at Brooks Field will be a rollercoaster of emotions.
The junior hurler was cruising through Thursday’s game before sustaining a cramp, and then surrendering the lead with two outs.
“He pitched a good game. He pitched a great game. He missed one pitch. That’s kind of sometimes how baseball goes. He knows we have his back. He knows we were going to score and we fought for him,” UNCW junior Ryan Jeffers said.
Through the first five innings, Royalty kept the Cougars guessing, allowing three hits and one walk. After getting his fourth strikeout to start the sixth inning and then putting Luke Morgan in a 0-2 count, Royalty suffered a cramp that forced a pause in the action.
Morgan would hit an infield single, followed by a Logan McRae strikeout for the second out. Unfortunately, things went downhill after that. Back-to-back singles let Charleston plate a run, followed by Air Sechopoulos’ three-run blast to give the Cougars a 4-3 lead.
It’s the second straight game Royalty has seen a strong start come undone. Against Northeastern, the righty took a 5-1 advantage into the seventh. He allowed four hits and was charged with all five runs that scored in the inning. The Seahawks would rally for a 7-6 win.
Jeffers breaks slump
UNCW success hinges on Ryan Jeffers being a factor. On Thursday, the junior catcher showed he can be counted on in the crunch.
His lead-off single in the third led to the Seahawks’ second run of the game, while his solo homer in the seventh pulled the team even. For the game, Jeffers went 2-for-3 with two runs and two RBI.
Coming in, Jeffers had been on a skid. Since going 2-for-4 with four RBIs against Campbell on April 25, he was 5-for-35 with only one multi-hit game in 11 outings with his batting average dropping from .369 to .324.
Jeffers still managed to draw 14 walks over those 11 games. He was issued a walk in his first at-bat on Thursday, giving him 46 for the season. That’s among the top 20 nationally.
“I was struggling to get hits, but I was getting a lot of walks. I was still seeing the ball well, so I never really lost confidence in myself and these guys didn’t lose confidence in me. It felt good to barrel a couple balls up today,” Jeffers said.
– Reporter Alex Riley can be reached at 910-343-2034 or Alex.Riley@StarNewsOnline.com.