MORRISTOWN, Tenn. — A pair of freshmen made sure Walters State closed the baseball season strong Sunday afternoon.
The fifth-ranked Senators made it 19 straight Tennessee Community College Athletic Association series without losing a set by taking the rubber matchup from visiting Motlow State in dominant fashion, piling up a 17-1 victory over the Bucks at Ken Campbell Field in a game shortened to seven innings due to the mercy rule.
Michael Robinson banged out a pair of home runs and drove in six runs in the win, while Zebulon Matthews allowed a leadoff homer in the first inning and nearly nothing else through five innings in a masterful performance on the mound.
With the win, the Senators close out the regular season with a 46-9 record overall and 20-4 mark in TCCAA action. The Senators will be the No. 1 seed in the TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII Tournament. Walters State has gone 19 straight series in TCCAA play without losing a three-game series.
The loss dropped the Bucks to 36-14 overall and 17-7 in TCCAA play. Motlow State will be the No. 2 seed in the Region VII Tournament.
Motlow State opened the game with a bang, as Nathan Sanders tagged a leadoff solo home run off Matthews before the freshman struck out the next two batters and got a fly ball to end the frame.
The Senators responded with a huge home half of the first, and it started with Drew Haynie drawing a walk before Jerry Hammons singled and Bryce Hodge brought home Haynie with an RBI base hit. Brayden Combs followed with a two-run double before Braydon Runion drew a walk. Following a double play, JL Bland walked and Robinson unloaded on a pitch from Motlow starter Dalton Wilder and deposited it over the left field wall, his fourth homer of the year, for a 6-1 lead after one inning.
Matthews got three straight ground balls to short in the second, and Hammons destroyed the first pitch he saw from Wilder in the bottom of the frame for a solo home run, extending the lead once again. That wasn't the last of the scoring for Walters State in the inning, as Combs singled with one out and moved up 90 feet on an infield single by Runion. Mason Streater followed with an RBI single, and Runion scored from first after a throwing error to make it 9-1 and bring an early end to the day for Wilder.
Jordan Burdette entered in relief for the Bucks, but the bleeding didn't stop. Burdette walked Bland before giving up an RBI single to Robinson and a bunt single to Xavier Arnette on a squeeze play to bring home another run, making it 11-1 after two frames.
Burdette recorded two quick outs in the third before Runion hammered a solo home run over the left field wall to pad the margin to 12-1 after three, and after another 1-2-3 inning by Matthews in the fourth, Robinson smacked his second homer of the game and fifth of the season to leadoff the home half for a 13-1 lead.
The Senators chased Burdette in the fifth inning with one out after a two-run double by Streater off the right-center wall, missing a home run by a foot. Justin Parker came on in relief, and after a wild pitch and a walk by Bland, Robinson lifted a sacrifice fly to center to bring home Streater, making it 16-1 after five.
Kody Davidson relieved Matthews after five innings, with Matthews (6-2) allowing just one hit and three base runners in the contest. Davidson worked around a pair of runners before Bubba Hubbard, in his first career at-bat, belted an RBI single in the bottom of the sixth to make it a 17-1 lead.
Davidson allowed a two-out walk in the seventh before notching a strikeout to end the game.
Robinson, Combs and Streater had three hits apiece, with Streater driving in four and Combs adding a pair of RBIs to go along with Robinson's six-RBI day. Hammons added two hits, including his 11th homer of the year, and Runion's two hits included his ninth round tripper.
Patrick Music had the only other hit of the game for the Bucks.
Matthews struck out four and walked one while allowing just the one hit in five innings. Davidson fanned six batters, walked two and gave up a hit in two innings of relief.
Wilder (3-4) took the loss after allowing 10 earned runs on eight hits in just 1 1/3 innings. Burdette surrendered six runs (four earned) on six hits in three innings, while Parker allowed an earned run on three hits in 1 2/3 innings.
The Senators will have a week off before opening play in the TCCAA/NJCAA Region VII Tournament at Columbia State's Dave Hall Field. The tournament runs from May 5-9, with the winner hosting the NJCAA East Central District Championship Series against the Georgia state champions on May 15-17 for a berth in the Alpine Bank JUCO World Series in Grand Junction, Colorado.