Hooker's clutch hits lift King past Pfeiffer

Photo taken by Rachel Burrus
Photo taken by Rachel Burrus

BURLINGTON, N.C. – "Find a way", the King University baseball team's motto came through in the first round of the Conference Carolinas Tournament on Thursday afternoon in Burlington, N.C. The fourth seeded Tornado fell behind third seed Pfeiffer University early, but worked their way back into the ballgame by scoring in four the final five innings. Tom Hooker came up with a pair of clutch hits, including a two-out RBI single in the 10th to give King the 6-5 victory over the Falcons.

The Pfeiffer offense wasted no time getting on the board as they got to King starting pitcher Cory Rhodes in the first inning. With runners on first and second, Anthony Allende ripped a single up the middle to score one, and Matt Wade followed with a run scoring double to give the Falcons (26-22) a 2-0 lead after the first inning.

From that point on, Rhodes began to settle in, but still had to work out of jams in the subsequent innings. Along with leaving the bases loaded in the first, the senior left the bases full of Falcons again in the third inning. He then left a pair in in the fifth before leaving one in his sixth and final inning. Rhodes battled for six innings, allowing just the three runs while scattering nine hits and striking out seven on 140 pitches.

King (22-27-1) got on the board in the third when Stephen Mullins ripped a two-out double to deep right center that scored Garrett Cook who led off the inning with a bunt single. However, Pfeiffer matched that run in the fourth to regain a 3-1 lead.

The Tornado offense started to click in the sixth inning when Tyler Raymond started the inning with an infield single. After a walk and hit by pitch loaded the bases forHooker. The senior delivered with a single to left field that scored two, evening the score at 3-3. However, the Falcons got the final two outs of the inning to escape further damage.

King then grabbed a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning with an unearned run as Logan Schmidt scored from second on a Falcon throwing error. The Tornado looked to extend the lead with a squeeze play, but were unable to get a bat on the ball and the runner was tagged out coming home before the Falcons got a foul out to end the frame.

The lead was short lived however, as Kyle Hackney started the inning with a double before Jon Gray ripped his second home run of the game, this one over the left field fence to put the Falcons back on top 5-4 after eight innings.

King had an answer though as Cook drew a leadoff walk to start the ninth inning. Cody Rogers then sacrificed him to second before he moved to third base on a flyout. Stephen Mullins then came up with the clutch hit for the Tornado, rolling a base hit down the third base line off the third basemen's glove that scored Cook to even the score at 5-5.

In the bottom of the ninth, Pfeiffer got a leadoff single, but it was erased on a 5-4-3 double play, and Mullins ended the inning with a diving play at third base to send the game to extra innings.

In the 10th inning, Justin Trent sparked the Tornado offense with a one-out double. Following an out, Hooker came up clutch again for King, lacing a since just out of the reach of Pfeiffer's leaping shortstop to score Trent and give King the 6-5 lead.

Alexander Gonzalez remained in the game after tossing a scoreless ninth, and put up another scoreless inning. The senior worked around a two-out single, but got a strikeout to end the game and give King the 6-5 victory.

Hooker paced the offense, going 2-for-5 and driving in three runs for the Tornado. Mullins, Trent and Cook all registered two hits for King with Cook and Trent each scoring twice and Mullins driving in two.

With the win, King pushes their winning streak to eight games, and moves into the winner's bracket of the Conference Carolinas Tournament. The Tornado will face the winner of No.2 Erskine College and No. 5 Limestone College at 7:00 p.m., on Friday night.

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