The No. 6 seed University of Alabama in Huntsville baseball team battled as hard as it has all season but eventually dropped a heartbreaking 7-6 decision in 10 innings to the second-seeded Delta State Statesmen in the regional semifinal at the NCAA Division II South Region Tournament on Sunday at the University of Tampa Baseball Field.
The 10th-ranked Delta State squad improves to 44-13 overall and advances to Monday's regional championship game where they will face Stillman.
"[Delta State] has a great team and they deserve to be moving on," Hunter Royer said. "I hope they represent our conference and win that thing tomorrow. Even though we didn't win, I think today summed up our whole season the way our guys battled."
It has been a historical season for the Blue and White who, after beginning the year 2-10, conclude their 2012 campaign with a record of 33-24 on the year, marking the first time since 2004 UAH has surpassed the 30-win mark. Additionally, it is the second-most victories since the 2004 season, when the squad finished with 36 wins.
"I couldn't be more proud if we were holding up the trophy and going to North Carolina," Royer said. "Coach [Evan] Bush said it best ‘this is the scrappiest bunch he's ever seen'. I'm just proud of them. I really don't know what else I can say, I'm just proud of them."
The Chargers finished the regular season with the Gulf South Conference's second-best league record of 15-9, and earned the No. 3 seed for tournament play after tiebreakers. The Chargers' 15 wins in conference play this year are the second-most in school history, coming just one shy of the program-record 16 wins set in 1999 and 2000.
Drew Eiland (8-4) was tagged with the loss, working 0.2 innings to allow three runs on three hits, two walks and one strikeout. Cody Barrett started and turned in an impressive 5.0 inning performance, allowing three runs while scattering six hits, walking two and striking out four. David Kendrick relieved Barrett for 3.2 innings, allowing one unearned run on one hit and one walk.
UAH scored two runs in the top of the 10th to go up 6-4, but Delta State responded with three runs, including the two-run walk-off chopping single over third baseman Eric Deese's head to earn the victory. Justin Badon, who entered the game as a pinch-runner in the ninth, connected on the game-winning two RBI single for DSU.
Delta State crossed the first run of the game in the bottom of the third inning. Brent Kakwitch led off the frame for the Statesmen with a double, and then moved over to third on a sac bunt. Jordan Chovanec followed with a groundout to first, which scored Kakwitch from third to give DSU an early 1-0 advantage.
UAH took over the lead after scoring three runs in the sixth. With two outs, the bases loaded and a 3-2 count, Mike Love laced a base-clearing triple to right centerfield to give the Chargers a 3-1 lead. Ty Chancelor walked to lead off the inning, followed by a Deese single and then Justin Pearson was hit by a pitch to load the bases for Love.
DSU countered with two runs in the bottom of the sixth, knotting the game a 3-3. The first two batters walked before a RBI single by Michael Vinson brought the Statesmen within one run. The next batter was hit by a pitch, marking the end of starting pitcher Cody Barrett's day, followed by a fielder's choice that tied the game at 3-3 through six frames.
Love gave the Chargers the lead again in the top of the eighth, chopping a single up the middle to score Riddle from second which put UAH on top, 4-3.
In the bottom of the ninth with one out, Delta State plated a run to tie the game at 4-4 when pinch-hitter Chad Fortenberry hit a chopper to third. Deese then overthrew first base, and DSU attempted to bring in the winning run, but Vincent Kortbawi threw a perfect strike to catcher Riddle who tagged the runner sliding into home plate.
UAH put runners on second and third in the 10th with just one out, and then Love came through once again with a double up the middle to score the both runners, giving the Chargers a 6-4 lead heading to the bottom of the frame.
Love accounted for every UAH run on the day, finished 3-for-4 at the plate with a career-high six RBI. He had a single, double and triple in the game. Chandler Brock hit 2-for-5 and Riddle went 2-for-4 with two runs scored. Also recording hits were Deese (1-for-5), Kortbawi (1-for-4) and Jon McKinney (1-for-4).
"When my chance came, I knew I'd get it done," Mike Love said when asked about his career day. "It's definitely a fist-fight every time we play Delta State. They're very similar to us. It doesn't matter if we get down or up, we always try to keep coming with the same type of tenacity. It's an emotional roller coaster right now. I'm heartbroken my career is over, but I'm so proud of my team."
Delta State was able to cross three runs in the 10th, however, including Badon's two RBI walk-off chopping single down the left field line. The Statesmen had the bases loaded with only one out at the time of the game-winning hit.