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Rare home run feat buoys Barton victory over UNCP

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WILSON — Tuesday afternoon baseball at Nixon Field saw a rarity in the NCAA Division II ranks.

In all his years of baseball, Barton College head coach Keith Gorman couldn’t recall a team he’d coached who had done it before. UNC Pembroke (7-5) probably wished it could have stayed that way after four consecutive home runs midway through the game vaulted the Bulldogs (7-5) into a lead en route to an eventual 8-7 victory.

“That was crazy,” said junior Colby Warren, who contributed offensively with a home run during that offensive flurry and captured the save later from the mound. “For us to get five runs in an inning, that’s just a huge bonus for us, for positivity, for staying up, like not getting down, knowing we’ve got the lead and being able to fight to keep a lead.”

With one out in the bottom of the fifth inning and trailing 4-2, Barton senior center fielder Trevor Edior came up to the plate with teammate Andres Machado on first. He hammered the fifth pitch and the ball continued to climb higher as it traveled to the left center fence, then beyond it to tie the game at 4.

On the very next pitch, after the team wrapped up its initial celebration, Brayden Olson followed suit with a solo shot down the left field line. He believed the ball to be foul initially — as did the Braves’ dugout and head coach Paul O’Neil, who was eventually tossed by the home plate umpire after disagreeing on the umpire’s ruling — but when teammates and Gorman told him to keep running, Olsen didn’t question it. When he crossed home plate, the lead was secured for good.

“I couldn’t really tell you,” Olson said of whether the ball was fair or foul. “All I know is our first base coach said to ‘relock in’ or something and coach Gorman was telling me to run, and that’s all I remember pretty much.”

Warren came up next, took the brush-back pitch from pitcher Jake Mayhew, and handled the second one to pile on another run. Designated hitter Mike Mayer closed out the explosion with his own homer in the next at bat as his teammates leapt into the air, their jaws wide open in disbelief of what had just happened.

Five runs wasn’t unheard of, but on consecutive home runs? It was much more rare.

“How many times do you hit back-to-back-to-back-to-back home runs? I believe that’s my first.” Gorman said. “I know I’ve had a couple back-to-back-to-back, but I’ve never seen four in a row from one of my teams. So pretty cool thing for our guys there.”

That moment, though rare, was not necessarily when the game was over, but it proved to be a turning point for Barton. The Bulldogs entered the contest against a strong veteran lineup in the Braves hoping to find its own offensive footing, while holding back the visitors from getting comfortable at the plate.

At the end of the game, Barton had achieved that goal.

“I think the difference in the game today is we were able to keep them out of the big inning,” Gorman said. “That’s a really good offensive ballclub, we knew that. We thought if we could limit them — when we talk about big innings here at Barton, it’s three or more runs — and if you look at the scoreboard, that’s what we were able to do is keep them out of that three-run inning.”

A committee of five pitchers, including starter Dylan Aldridge, eventual game-winner Zach Bagley, Matt Gonzales, Nate McKenrick and Warren worked hard to prevent the big inning.

When Olson hit a solo home run in the bottom of the sixth, it proved to be the final one for the Bulldogs. But UNCP wasn’t done scoring yet.

Moved from first base to the mound for the final 2.2 innings, Warren earned the save after coming in to pitch in a tough position.

“Two guys on first and third I wasn’t really worried about them,” Warren said. “I was just trying to get the batter out, the first batter. So they bring me in there just to get us out of a tough spot and that was my plan.”

In that seventh inning, the Braves scored a pair of runs on an RBI single and entered the ninth inning within arm’s reach, down two runs.

The first UNCP batter of that inning — Ethan Baucom — homered to left field to bring his team within one. But from there, Warren settled down.

He forced a strike out and two groundouts to win the game.

Though a nice feat, the big inning proved even more important with how close things drew late in the game. After putting away the Braves, it has Barton feeling good entering its Conference Carolinas home opener on Friday against North Greenville.

“We’re ready,” Edior said of the conference slate ahead. “Every day we go hard. We get in each other’s face. We know that the guy behind us is going to back us up. We’re ready.”