Belmont and Lipscomb started the final weekend of the Atlantic Sun Conference baseball regular season tied for third place.
When it was over the neighborhood rivals were worlds away from one another.
Belmont’s 10-4 victory over Lipscomb on Saturday not only capped a three-game sweep of their series at Rose Park, it propelled the Bruins (35-21, 17-10) to their first A-Sun regular season championship. They finished a half-game ahead of USC Upstate, which entered the weekend in first place but dropped three contests to Mercer.
"I'm just so happy for these kids," coach Dave Jarvis said. "They've accomplished something that no previous Belmont baseball team had done, so I'm proud of them for that."
The Bisons (25-30, 14-13) ultimately missed out on the conference tournament. They finished alone in seventh place, one game behind three teams, including tournament host Stetson. The top six qualify for the postseason event, and Lipscomb, which had won seven of its previous nine conference contests, needed to win once or a loss by either Florida Gulf Coast or Mercer during the weekend to clinch a spot.
“This is a difficult way to end the season coming off back-to-back weekends where you put yourself in position to place pretty well in the tournament,” said Lipscomb head coach Jeff Forehand. “We couldn’t get anything going this weekend to close it out.
“You can’t rely on other teams to help you when you have the opportunity to do it yourself and we didn’t do it. It’s tough to take. I don’t think anybody thought we’d be in this position right now.“
Belmont capped its scoring with six runs in the third inning and then relied on freshman relievers Dan Ludwig and Scott Moses to get them to the finish. Ludwig pitched five innings in place of starter James Buckelew, who had to be pulled following a two-hour rain delay. Moses came on in the ninth and needed four pitches to record the final three outs.
Junior Judah Akers drove in two runs and scored another on a game-high three hits, and senior Dylan Craig scored three times for Belmont, which got at least one run or one RBI from all nine starters.
"This is what you play for, to compete for a championship," Akers said. "To do it in the style that we did, playing a cross-town rival in Lipscomb, it was very exciting. We're now looking forward to seeing what we can do in the tournament."
The Bruins opened the series with a 2-1 victory on Thursday, followed with a 5-0 triumph Friday and finished the regular season on a five-game win streak. Matt Hamann pitched a four-hit shutout with 10 strikeouts in the middle contest.
After producing just two runs in the first 25 innings of the series, Lipscomb’s offense finally got going with eighth-inning home runs by M.L. Williams and Griffin Moore on Saturday. That still was not enough to run down Belmont, which scored its 10 runs on eight hits.
“Every coach is proud of his team for what we go through all year long to get to this point,” Forehand said. “All of your hard work and your effort, the time and the commitment. The time in the weight room and everything you do and when it all comes to a head and it doesn’t work out for you in the end it’s tough to take.”
Belmont, which won the 2011 A-Sun tournament (Lipscomb hosted that event), opens the 2012 tournament at 6 p.m. (CDT) Wednesday against Stetson.