Top-Seeded Fire Defeat Fourth-Seeded Clarke in First Opening Round Contest
KINGSPORT, Tenn, – Resiliency and being able to battle from behind has been key for the No. 4 Southeastern University baseball team this season. In their first game of the NAIA Opening Round, the top-seeded Fire battled back from an early deficit to defeat the fourth-seeded Clarke University Pride 8-6. This marked the 19th time this season SEU has been victorious in a contest after conceding the first run.
The Fire trailed 4-0 after two innings of play, due to a leadoff Clarke home run in the top of the first, followed by a three-run top of the second where the Pride plated three on four hits and an error.
The rally started on the mound with junior right-handed pitcher Braeden Holub. The Tomball, Texas native entered the game in relief with two outs in the top of the second.
After surrendering two hits in the top of the second, Holub settled in to retire 14 of his next 16 batters faced, striking out five during that stretch. Holub improved to 2-0 with the win.
“In my first inning, I had a little issue with my footing on the mound and getting comfortable. But when I came back out I made adjustments, got into a groove, and was able to give my team a long stretch,” shared Holub.
At the plate, the Fire found some life in the bottom in the third, when the throw off a double down the right field line by junior outfielder Manuel Mesa allowed junior shortstop Adam De La Cruz to cross the plate for the first SEU run of the game.
The spark ignited SEU at the plate in the bottom of the fourth, as junior outfielder Marvin Malone and junior first baseman Nick Bottari led off the inning with back-to-back singles. Junior outfielder Ivan Nunez doubled home the pair of baserunners in the next at-bat with a double to deep left that cut the Pride lead to 4-3.
In the next at-bat, junior utility man Dan Valerio continued his special season with a two-run blast to left field on the first pitch he saw to put the Fire ahead 5-4. The homer tied Valerio with Malone for the team lead at 16.
“I’m always hunting fastballs. He left one up and in and I was able to get my barrel on it and put us on the board and take the lead. It was a really exciting moment for my teammates because that’s what it’s all about, being a team player in the playoffs and helping the team win games,” commented Valerio.
Southeastern tacked on three more in the bottom of the seventh, thanks to a two-RBI double by junior infielder Dominic Anagnos and a sacrifice fly by Bottari that scored Anagnos and put SEU ahead 8-4.
The Pride answered in the top of the eighth with a pair of runs to cut the Fire lead down to 8-6.
Senior righty Jared Crescentini entered the frame to stifle any hopes of a Clarke comeback, tossing one and two thirds of no-hit relief to close out the contest and earn his third save of the season.
This was the largest Opening Round deficit the Fire have ever battled back from to win.
The Fire are set to battle second-seeded Tennessee Wesleyan Tuesday at 2:30 p.m. in the winner’s bracket.