Rams win CIAA baseball tourney, orchestrates five-peat

Rams win CIAA baseball tourney,  orchestrates five-peat
May 07
00:00 2015
(Above: Photo by Craig T. Greenlee- Jordan Cummings has performed well as a relief pitcher this season.)

For the Rams, it’s one for the thumb.

Top-seeded Winston-Salem State University did what was expected and won three games in a row to add another CIAA Baseball Tournament championship to its trophy collection. The Rams whipped Virginia State 8-3 in the final to bag their fifth straight league tournament title.

“Each year it gets harder and harder,” said WSSU Coach Ken Ritsche. “The rest of the CIAA is getting better and they’re catching up. It’s not easy to do this five times.”

Winston-Salem State (38-13) is now in waiting mode until Sunday when the pairings are announced for the NCAA Regional Championships. The Rams, who haven’t won a game at the regionals in four previous appearances, are looking for a breakthrough. The ultimate goal is to win a regional and advance to the College World Series. WSSU is ranked 25th in Collegiate Baseball’s national poll for Division II.

“This program is at a point where we have the talent and senior leadership to take that next step,” said Ritsche. “I believe we have a definite shot at winning a regional. With this group, there are multiple players who have that ability to deliver at the most critical times.”

Leading 5-3 in the championship final, WSSU came through with a timely flurry in the eighth inning. Nathan Steger had an RBI-single and Jacob Barber drilled a two-run double to give the Rams a five-run cushion. Steger and Barber led the way with two runs batted in apiece.

Starting pitcher Tyler Scearce (4-0) worked six innings and allowed two runs on five hits. Jordan Cummings pitched the last 1 2/3 innings in relief to seal the win. Cummings entered the game in the eighth with one out and two Trojans runners on base. After walking Corey Grant to load the bases, Cummings forced two ground-outs to retire the side and squash a potential comeback bid.

A day earlier, Winston-Salem State topped Virginia State 8-4 in the semifinals. After the loss, the Trojans battled back to advance to the tournament final with a 4-3 win over Chowan in a consolation bracket elimination game.

The Rams did have a close call in the opening round last Thursday. A late-game rally helped them to survive in a 5-4 victory over St. Augustine’s. WSSU blew a 2-0 lead and trailed 4-2 entering its half of the eighth inning. Colby Keene singled and Connor Andrus followed with a two-run homer over the left-centerfield fence to tie the game at 4-4. Andrus, the CIAA’s Player of the Year, was voted tournament MVP.

Winston-Salem State got some timely pitching in the ninth to help set the stage for the comeback. Cummings came in from the bullpen to eventually put the game away, but there were some anxious moments. Cummings pitched his way out of a potentially troublesome situation when he got Alex Garcia out on an outfield fly ball with the bases loaded.

In the WSSU half of the ninth, Taylor Idol singled up the middle and stole second. Des Roberts walked to put runners on first and second. Keene drilled a single to bring home the winning run.

Sam Burton pitched 5 2/3 innings and surrendered four runs on seven hits before his departure. Eric Corlette held steady in middle relief and Cummings shut down the Falcons to improve his pitching record to 6-3.

“Our seniors are playing the best ball of their careers and that’s so important at this time of the season,” said Ritsche. “In those close games, they’ve responded. That’s what happened in the first round against St. Aug’s. This team knows how to win in the clutch.”

Aside from being a five-time automatic qualifier to the NCAA regionals, Winston-Salem State has cracked the national rankings on several occasions in recent seasons. Given its track record, there’s no denying that Winston-Salem State has arrived as one of the premier programs in Division II baseball. During the regular season, the Rams were 15-1 in conference play and 23-12 vs. non-conference competition.

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Craig Greenlee

Craig Greenlee

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