WILSON, N.C. – In a back-and-forth battle between emerging rivals, the King College Tornado lost a late five-run lead to the North Greenville Crusaders in a 9-8 defeat on Friday night. The Crusaders turned in a six-run seventh inning to take the lead down the stretch before closing the game out and sending King into the loser's bracket.
North Greenville took an early 3-0 lead, cashing in on a pair of walks by Reiss Stanley. Derek Fulmer followed up the second walk with a RBI double down the left field line. A ground out to the right side plus a single by Andrew Lawrence put the Crusaders up three runs after one inning of play.
King jumped into the scoring column, using an error by Crusader shortstop David Frazier to put runners on the corners and a wild pitch by starter Andrew Lawrence allowed Josh Huffman to score.
The Tornado took the lead with a four-run fifth inning that featured a pair of home runs from slugger Brandon Reed (Seymour, Tenn.) and leadoff man Tyler Gaby (Bristol, Tenn.). Brandon Reed wasted no time reenacting his display at the Home Run Derby held prior to the start of the tournament, cranking a deep, solo blast well over the left field fence. After Shane Timberlake walked, Tyler Gaby followed suit and roped a liner that cleared the wall in left to give King the lead, 5-4. The Tornado later turned another NGU error with runners on into a run to extend the lead to two runs.
Stanley held his own through six strong innings of work before getting into trouble. After the three-run first by North Greenville, he retired the NGU side in order three of the next three innings and struck out two of his four total hitters. After a flawless sixth, the North Greenville bats started to liven up.
The Crusaders did all of their damage with one out in the inning, scoring six runs in the bottom of the seventh inning. Markus Duckworth hit a one-out double to right center to start off the rally. An error by Timberlake at short placed runners on the corners before Allen Staton singled to left, scoring one and putting runners on first and second when King went to the bullpen.
Wesley Houser (Knoxville, Tenn.) came in to relieve Stanley but was subjected to the same Crusader rally. After a wild pitch, King intentionally walked Derek Fulmer but Derek Frazier changed his luck from his three prior at bats, finding the left center field gap with a liner that scored two. After a harmless grounder scored NGU's fourth run of the inning, Frank Polino dumped in a bloop single to no-man's land in left with runners in motion, plating the final two runs of the inning.
King could not respond to the relief combination Dylan Fulk and Allen Staton. After Fulk (W, 2-0) tossed a scoreless seventh inning, the Conference Carolinas Freshman of the Year closed out the final two frames for his first collegiate save. Allen Staton threw two scoreless innings and did not allow a hit while striking out two King hitters. Hunter Smith (Bristol, Tenn./Sullivan East) gave Staton and the NGU dugout a scare when he pinch hit for Garrett Cook in the ninth and sent a high fly ball to deep right center field, but was caught by centerfielder Markus Duckworth on the warning track.
Between North Greenville's three relievers, they combined to allow only two hits to the Tornado, though did allow two runs.
Rhodes' (ND) final line spanned 6.1 innings, allowing six runs (five earned) on five hits and striking out four. The sophomore lefty walked five, leading to two NGU runs.
Wesley Houser (L, 7-6) took the loss after throwing 1.2 innings of relief. He surrendered three runs on two hits and a pair of walks. He struck out three of his last four batters faced in the seventh and eighth innings.
Tyler Gaby and Cody Snyder (Bluff City, Tenn./Tennessee HS) led the Tornado with a pair of hits each at the top of the lineup and went a combined 4-for-8 with two runs scored. Gaby tallied three RBI off of his two-run homer and a sacrifice fly that scored a run in the sixth.
With the loss, King falls to 1-1 in the Conference Carolinas Baseball Tournament and will fight to stay alive against the Erskine Flying Fleet on Sunday. King and Erskine will meet at Fleming Stadium for a scheduled 3 p.m. game for the right to continue their run for the tournament championship.