DEMOREST, Ga. – One day after needing an eighth-inning comeback to record a one-run win, the second-seeded Pacific Lutheran baseball team made sure no late-inning heroics were required in a 7-2 win over third-seeded Birmingham-Southern in the NCAA Div. III South Regional Thursday at Loudermilk Stadium.
Pacific Lutheran – ranked 19th in the latest d3baseball.com poll – improved to 32-12 and wrapped up the second day of regional action as the lone team without a loss in the double-elimination tournament. Seventh-ranked Birmingham Southern fell to 35-11-1 and will take on top-seeded Rhodes in an elimination game Friday at 12 p.m. EST. The winner of that game will play the Lutes at 7 p.m.
Kyle Rossman gave the PLU bullpen a rest with an eight-inning effort, tossing a season-high 138 pitches while striking out eight and allowing two runs. AJ Konopaski pitched the ninth inning for the second straight day for the Lutes, who bounced back from a five-error game on Wednesday with no defensive miscues against Birmingham-Southern.
"We needed a quality start from Kyle, and he delivered," PLU head coach Geoff Loomis said. "And to play error-free baseball one night after making five errors, well it's exactly the kind of response I've come to expect from this group."
Tyler Thompson's bases-loaded double in the fifth inning helped the Lutes put the game out of reach, and the PLU third baseman finished with a game-high four runs batted in. Collin Nilson tallied three hits, including his 15th double of the season to tie for the fourth-most in a season in team history. Frank Airey finished with a pair of hits and two runs scored, and Curtis Wildung walked three times. Jacob Mayfield, Zach Wingate and Nathan Qualls each tallied two hits for Birmingham-Southern.
PLU got on the board with three runs in the bottom of the third inning. Connor Cantu reached on an error to open the inning, and after Wildung walked and Airey reached on a bunt single the Lutes had the bases loaded with no outs. Landon Packard brought home PLU's first run with a sacrifice fly to right, and Nilson followed with a double to make it 2-0. The Lutes' final run of the inning came in on a fielder's choice groundout by Thompson.
The Lutes turned a three-run lead into a more comfortable seven-run margin with four runs in the bottom of the fifth. Cantu again got the inning started for the Lutes, doubling down the left field line and advancing to third on a single by Airey. Packard walked on four pitches to load the bases with one out, and Thompson drove a 1-1 pitch for a bases-clearing double. Thompson scored one batter later on the Panthers' second error of the day.
Birmingham-Southern picked up its two runs in the top of the eighth, loading the bases with two outs on a single and a pair of walks. Qualls doubled to right center to score two, but Rossman closed out the inning and his 138-pitch performance by inducing a ground ball back to the mound. The Panthers loaded the bases again in the top of the ninth, but Konopaski sealed the win with a foulout to first and a ground ball to third.
Earlier in the day, fifth-seeded Emory eliminated sixth-seeded Methodist with an 8-1 win and fourth-seeded Marietta upset top-seeded Rhodes 4-3. Emory and Marietta will meet in an elimination game at 3:30 p.m. EST following the 12 p.m. elimination matchup between Rhodes and Birmingham-Southern.