College of Charleston (43-17) continued its exciting run through the NCAA postseason with a 6-3 win over Long Beach State (33-25) on Saturday night. The win advanced College of Charleston to the Gainesville Regional title round where the Cougars will have two chances to win one game to advance to a Super Regional.
With the victory, College of Charleston becomes the only four seed in the entire NCAA Tournament to advance to the Regional final this year.
The Cougars picked up the victory behind the 11th quality start from Bailey Ober (10-2) this season. Ober went seven innings and gave up three runs on seven hits with three strikeouts to pick up his 10th win of the season. Ober and teammate Taylor Clarke have become the first pair of 10-game winners on the same CofC team in program history. Only one other NCAA team has two 10-game winners this season.
Sophomore Nathan Helvey pitched a perfect eighth inning to preserve CofC’s lead, and then Michael Hanzlik (16) came back out in the ninth to get his second save in two NCAA games. Hanzlik now has 16 saves on the season, setting the new CofC single-season record for saves.
Long Beach State’s Josh Frye (8-1) pitched well until the sixth inning when he gave up four runs. He was tagged with his first loss of the season after surrendering five runs on three hits through six innings.
“We had some big at bats,” head coach Monte Lee said. “Brandon Murray and Blake Butler did a great job. I thought that Long Beach State played exceptionally well in a lot of different areas of the game. They made a couple of mistakes that cost them, but we were pretty fortunate too. I have a lot of respect for Long Beach State. Fortunately for us, we scored first. When we score first, we usually win, somehow some way. We capitalized on a couple mistakes and came up with a couple big home runs. Those were huge for us and probably changed the outcome of the game in our direction.”
Charleston’s offense was very efficient, scoring all six runs on just four hits. The Cougars scored four runs in the sixth inning to take the lead, led by Ben Boykin’s huge two-run homer. Nick Pappas had a solo homer in the eighth and an RBI in the first. Brandon Murray finished with two hits and a run, while Blake Butler had two walks and two runs.
The Cougars scored in the first inning yet again, moving the season mark to 29-2 when scoring first. Blake Butler walked and eventually came home on a groundout RBI from Nick Pappas.
That was all of CofC’s scoring, however, for the next few frames as Frye retired 11 in a row and stranded a runner in the fifth inning. Long Beach State tied the game in the fourth inning with a two-out RBI from Johnny Bekakis. The Dirtbags then took the lead in the sixth inning by loading the bases with no one out and scoring on a sacrifice fly RBI from Zack Belanger. The Cougars were fortunate to get out of the top of the sixth with no further damage, setting up the momentum-changing bottom half.
Butler led off the CofC sixth with a walk and then advanced to third on a base hit to left from Murray. Carl Wise recorded his team-best 10th sacrifice fly of the season for his 53rd RBI, scoring Butler from third and advancing Murray to third. The Dirtbags were poised to end the threat with a comebacker to the pitcher, but Frye threw the ball away at first base in an attempt to double up Pappas. Murray gave CofC the 3-2 lead on the errant throw and then Boykin launched a two-run homer that hit the scoreboard in right field for a 5-2 lead.
LBSU cut the lead to 5-3 in the seventh with an RBI from Garrett Hampson, but Pappas home run with two outs in the eighth was all of the insurance that Hanzlik would need to finish the game.
College of Charleston has now advanced to a regional final in four of six trips to the NCAA Tournament. CofC has only won one NCAA regional, back in 2006 when the Cougars defeated Kentucky to win the Lexington Regional and advance to the Super Regionals.
This is the first season that CofC will not have to face the host school in the championship round as the number two overall seed Florida Gators were eliminated today. Charleston will face the winner of the UNC-Long Beach State game tomorrow night at 7 p.m. If the Cougars do not win that game, they will have another opportunity to win the regional on Monday night at 7 p.m.