Belmont believes program elevated despite coming up short in regional

Monday, June 6, 2011 at 1:02am

Jon Ivie leaves Belmont with the school’s single-season and all-time saves records.

But that’s not what the senior closer will remember from the 2011 campaign. Knowing he helped the Bruins reach their first NCAA Regional trumps individual milestones.

That’s why Ivie and teammates Nate Woods and Judah Akers couldn’t hang their heads too low at a postgame press conference following Belmont’s 6-1 season-ending loss to Vanderbilt in the championship game of a regional at Hawkins Field.

“We have done something that no other Belmont team has done,” Ivie said. “So I’m proud of that. I’m proud to be a part of it. I think it opens a lot of doors. It just shows the school that we can make it this far and maybe even further one day.”

Few outside of the Belmont clubhouse expected the Bruins to reach this stage. They started Atlantic Sun Conference play 3-8 and appeared to be heading toward missing the league tournament for the second straight year. After losing the second game of a home series against Jacksonville in early April, the team met and decided to turn its season around.

“I don’t think any of us were willing to give up yet,” senior Nate Woods said. “Our coaching staff stepped in ... and we started playing with a little more desperation and started enjoying the game a little more.”

The Bruins (38-25) won five of their last six conference series. They clinched the sixth and final spot in the league tournament when they took two of three against conference-leading Stetson in the last series of the regular season. They then swept their way to the conference tournament title, becoming the first sixth seed to win the A-Sun tournament title in eight years.

They were 18-5 in their last 23 games against league opponents and set a new school record for a total wins in a season.

After a 10-0 loss to Vanderbilt on Friday to open the regional, Belmont didn’t settle for two-and-out. The Bruins rode an eight-inning gem from sophomore left-hander Chase Brookshire to edge Oklahoma State 3-2 on Saturday. Ivie regrouped after walking in two runs in the ninth and induced an inning-ending double play ball. It gave him 14 saves on the year, which set a single-season record and tied the career mark.

He broke the record on Sunday when he delivered a 1-2-3 ninth against Troy as Belmont won 5-2 to reach the championship round.

Woods started the game and pitched five strong innings and Jared Breen, Judah Akers and Zac Mitchell all came with timely hits.

The Bruins, however, were overmatched against Vanderbilt later that night. It was the third time this season Belmont has lost to the Commodores but it couldn’t dampen a memorable two-month run.

“It has just been an awesome experience,” Akers said. “The senior class really set a high standard for us. They really carried us, especially this last month stretch. I think it is a positive. You look at next year and it just really sets the bar high. ... Having that [regional] experience is really going to be fuel to the fire.”

Belmont will lose eight seniors, and junior ace Matt Hamann (9-2) might be a late-round MLB draft selection on Monday. But most of the Bruins’ arms return, including Brookshire, James Buckelew, Blake Harvey and Josh Davis.

Woods, Tim Egerton and Derek Hamblen’s power will need to be replaced as they accounted for 37 of Belmont’s 64 home runs. Entering the weekend, the Bruins ranked fifth in the nation in homers.

Three-fourths of the infield will be back along with centerfielder Dylan Craig.

For a team that boasts players from 10 different states already, earning national attention will only help the program.

“I think it is definitely on the upswing and I’m excited about the future and what it holds,” coach Dave Jarvis said. “But this is a very competitive league we are in and it is a very competitive city as far as baseball recruiting is concerned. So we’ve got our work cut out for us and we got to go back to work starting [Monday]. I think I’ll take [Monday] off and go back the next day. How ’bout that?”