BURLINGTON, N.C. – Coming into the day, the task for the third seeded King University baseball team was simple, win and the Conference Carolinas Tournament championship was theirs. However, second seed Coker College had other ideas as their offense erupted for 14 runs on 18 hits to force a winner-take-all game with the 14-11 victory.
The Tornado (31-19) jumped on the Cobras early, scoring in each of the first three innings. Josh Huffman ripped his eighth home run of the season with two outs in the first to put King ahead. In the second Garrett Cook and Hunter Smith registered back-to-back doubles to push the Tornado lead to 2-0.
Coker (33-14) looked to score in the second inning has they had runners on first and second with no outs. However, Wes Houser induced a groundball to third base where Stephen Mullins touched third and threw to second for two outs. Steven Todoschuk then completed the 5-4-3 triple play to get King out of the jam.
The Cobras got the board with a two-out solo home run by Shea Bell in third inning before the Tornado scored again in the bottom of the inning. Huffman started a two-out rally in the third with a walk and Mullins followed with a single. Carl Roberts pushed the Tornado lead to 3-1 with a single to right side.
Coker grabbed the lead in the fourth inning when Ernie Kirkwood laced a grand slam to left field, making the score 5-3 Coker. The Cobras tacked on a pair of runs in the fifth inning on a Brinley Griffin double and Zach Loraine single to give Coker a 7-3 lead.
The Tornado bounced back in the fifth inning as Mullins started a one-out rally when he was hit by a pitch. Roberts followed with a double to score him and pull King within three. Garrett Cook came up next and launched the 2-2 offering over the right field fence to cut the Tornado deficit to 7-6.
It looked as though the score would remain the same as Cory Rhodes induced a groundball with two outs and two on in the sixth inning. However, the play wasn't made and Coker went on to plate five two-out unearned runs to extend the lead to 12-6.
King cut into the lead in the seventh as Cook started the inning with a single, and Smith followed with a walk. After a groundout moved the runners up, Hooker ripped a double into left center to score one. Tyler Gaby followed with a walk to load the bases, and after an out, Huffman placed a single down the right field line that scored two and brought King within three at 12-9.
However, the Cobras responded with two outs in the eighth inning. With runners on second and third, Kirkwood laced a single up the middle to score both runners and stretch the lead to 14-9.
King didn't give up, however, as Jose Sola started the bottom of the ninth with a walk. After an out, Gaby ripped a home run to left to cut the deficit to 14-11. Huffman started a two-out rally with a walk, and Mullins followed with a single to left, but Coker's Russ White induced a fly out to give the Cobras the 14-11 win.
Cook went 3-for-5 with three runs scored and two runs batted in to lead the Tornado offense while six other Tornado players registered two hits apiece.
The Coker win forces a winner-take-all Conference Carolinas Tournament championship game between the same two teams. The winner will receive the conference's automatic berth into the NCAA Baseball Championships.