When the Belmont Bruins started the season 3-8 in the Atlantic Sun season, they had to play with their backs against the wall for the rest of the season just to make it to the postseason.
The team had to play similarly in the championship game, but the Bruins finished their improbable run to the first A-Sun title Saturday with a 9-7 win over the defending champion Mercer Bears.
The Bruins’ run to their first-ever tournament championship and trip to the NCAA tournament was something the team knew would happen if they made it this far.
“This is crazy right here. I never thought at the beginning of the year that we’d come out and do this. But we’ve been saying all along if you let us in the tournament, we’d win it. So we won it,” said third baseman Zac Mitchell, who hit the go-ahead triple in the top of the eighth for the Bruins.
The big hit came after an early five-run lead for the Bruins and eventual Mercer comeback in the first three innings. The Bruins’ bats were alive early in the game, as the five first batters all scored in the top of the first. Starting pitcher Brandon Love was pulled from the game before an out was made, giving up all five runs. The Bears countered with two unearned runs in the first off two errors by Matt Zeblo. By the bottom of the third, the score was tied at 5.
The lost lead wasn’t something the team knew they wouldn’t overcome, head coach Dave Jarvis said.
“They didn’t let that shake them when Mercer grinded on us and tied the game. We were going to find a way to win,” he said.
The Bears and Bruins went back and forth through the seventh inning. A Dylan Craig double in the fourth drove Jared Breen in helped the Bruins regain the lead, but a wild pitch by Blake Harvey allowed the tying Mercer run to score the seventh.
In the top of the eighth, Mitchell’s triple scored the go-ahead run for Belmont. He quickly scored afterward with a sacrifice fly from Hanblen, giving the Bruins an 8-6 lead.
“Zac is just such a tremendous competitor. He’s a leader on this team. It didn’t shock me that he was the one that came up with the big hit, and then score another run,” said Jarvis.
Garrett Fanchier, who got the win for the Bruins, allowed Mercer to cut the lead to one in the eighth. With the lead though, Jon Ivie came in to close and got his thirteenth save in the ninth.
The Bruins’ late run in the season and conference tournament is a testament to their ability to play through adversity, Jarvis said.
“This team’s had their backs against the wall since we started 3-8 in conference play. So to be able to come through this big, and under these circumstances, over and over and over again, that takes a lot of character,” he said.
Both Jarvis and his team feel there is something special about this team, and hope their play will lead to a extended run at their first NCAA regional next week.
“There’s a chemistry about us, we just feel we are unstoppable,” Mitchell said.