DUE WEST, S.C. – The King University baseball team returned to Conference Carolinas play on Friday when they traveled to Erskine College. The momentum carried over from Wednesday's win as the Tornado grabbed the lead in the second inning and used a solid outing by starting pitcher Cory Rhodes to take the first game of the series 6-5.
The Tornado offense registered back-to-back hits to start the game, but a double play thwarted King's chance at scoring in the opening frame. Rhodes then worked a clean bottom of the first before Hunter Smith gave King the lead with his fifth home run, crushing the 3-1 pitch over the right field fence.
King (14-25-1, 5-8 CC) added to the lead when Tyler Gaby sparked a third inning rally with a one-out double to right field. Stephen Mullins drove him in with a single up the middle before stealing second with Tyler Raymond at the plate. The stolen base proved to be timely as Raymond singled up the middle to score Mullins and give King a 3-0 lead.
In the bottom of the third, Erskine (21-11, 8-4 CC) threatened to get on the board as a leadoff walk followed by an error put two runners on. The bases were then loaded after a hit by pitch before Rhodes buckled down. The senior got a strikeout for the first out before getting a line drive double play to second base to end the threat.
The King offense erupted in the fifth, doubling their run output in the contest. Cody Rogers led off the inning with a single and stole second before Gaby drove him in with a single up the middle. With runners on second and third, Geoff Cieslewitz drove in one with a groundout to stretch the lead to 5-0. Later in the inning, Smith worked a bases loaded walk to extend the Tornado lead to 6-0.
The Flying Fleet got on the board in the fifth inning with one run and added two more in the sixth inning, but Rhodes stranded a pair of runners to keep King in the lead 6-3. The Erskine offense didn't slow down in the seventh inning either as Brandon Overstreet started the inning with a double to left field. An infield single put runners on the corners before Zack Smith reached on an error that scored one more. The Flying Fleet cut their deficit to 6-5 with a sacrifice fly before Rhodes got out the jam.
Alex Martin relieved Rhodes in the eighth ad looked to slow down the offense as he got the first two outs of the inning on two pitches. Nevertheless, the Flying Fleet proceeded to load the bases on a pair of walks and an infield single, but Martin got a groundout to end the threat and keep the Tornado in the lead.
Martin again had to work out of a jam in the ninth as Erskine got put two runners on base with one out, but Martin was up to the task again. The senior got a flyout before ending the 6-5 Tornado win with a looking strikeout.
Rhodes tossed seven innings and allowed five runs, four earned while scattering 10 hits and striking out three. Martin tossed two innings in relief, earning his second save of the season. Offensively, Gaby led the Tornado offense going 3-for-5 with two runs scored and one run batted in and Mullins went 2-for-5 with one run scored and one run batted in.
The three game series concludes on Saturday when the teams square off in a doubleheader. First pitch is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.