BURLINGTON, N.C. – Behind an impressive pitching outing from Ryan Nichols in relief and home runs by Geoff Cieslewitz and Stephen Mullins, the fourth-seeded King University baseball team won its ninth straight game over No. 2 Erskine College and remained in the winner's bracket of the Conference Carolinas Tournament.
Nichols came in to start the fourth inning for the Tornado (23-27-1) and finished the contest, pitching six scoreless innings while giving up just three base hits and not allowing a walk. He received steady offensive support from the Tornado bats, which had scored four times when Nichols entered trailing the Fleet 6-4. Garrett Cook scored after leading off with a double to pull the Tornado to within a run.
In the fifth inning, Cieslewitz made sure that Nichols would have the opportunity to earn the win on the mound. With Tyler Raymond standing on first after a single up the middle, Cieslewitz crushed the first pitch he saw from Erskine's (33-14) Zach McAllister over the fence in center field for his second home run of the season, giving King its first lead of the contest.
Cieslewitz had a career day at the plate, going 4-for-5 with two runs scored and two batted in. Raymond was 3-for-5 and also scored twice with a run batted in. Hunter Smith gave the Tornado a trifecta of players with multi-hit days as he went 2-for-4 with a run batted in.
Before Nichols entered the contest, things looked bleak for the Tornado. The game started inauspiciously as Erskine used a walk and a long home run to right center to lead 2-0 just two batters into the contest. The Fleet would stretch the lead to 4-0 on a two-run single before starting pitcher Alex Gonzalez got a strikeout to end the frame. Erskine would add single runs in the second and third innings to lead 6-4 when starting pitcher Alexander Gonzalez exited the game.
Both teams' offenses struggled to produce runs after an initial onslaught, but Mullins provided the final dagger for the Tornado. With King still leading 7-6, Mullins fouled off two full-count pitches before lifting a Landon Dickerson offering over the left field fence for a three-run blast to stretch the lead to 10-6.
With its win, King advances to a winner's bracket contest with top-seeded Mount Olive at 6:35 p.m. No. 2 Erskine and No. 6 Barton will play an elimination game after the conclusion of the Tornado's contest with the Trojans.