For a team that had to play its way into the Atlantic Regional tournament, the University of Charleston baseball team made it very clear Thursday afternoon that it felt it belonged.
A three-run burst in the third inning, another four-run burst in the fifth and strong pitching throughout gave the Golden Eagles a 12-2 win over Gannon in West Chester, Pennsylvania, in the first game of the NCAA Division II Atlantic bracket.
That now gives UC (38-17), the Atlantic’s No. 6 seed, a little bit of a break. Charleston, which earned a tournament spot with an automatic bid as Mountain East Conference tournament champion, awaits the winner between No. 3 seed Gannon and No. 2 seed West Chester.
Those two teams play at 11 a.m. Thursday. If West Chester wins, Gannon is out of the double-elimination tournament and UC plays West Chester at 2:30 p.m. Thursday to start what essentially becomes a best-of-three series.
If Gannon beats West Chester, all three teams stay alive and West Chester plays UC with its tournament survival on the line. If West Chester can beat UC in that Thursday afternoon game, all three teams stay alive with one loss and the site goes to an alternate bracket.
Austin Henrich picked up the win for Charleston after throwing seven full innings and allowing one earned run on six hits with eight strikeouts and four walks.
In the third inning, Colby Johnson sandwiched an RBI single in between a pair of sacrifice flies. The first came from Austin Hathaway and the second came from Gianfranco Morello and UC got out of the inning up 3-0. Johnson then scored on a wild pitch at the start of the fifth, which gave way to Drew Hefner’s two-run single to right. A Derek Dudek single up the middle scored Hefner and put the Golden Eagles up 8-1.
Brice Arrington added an RBI single to right in the eighth, then Jesse Elliott smacked a two-run home run over the right-center fence in the ninth to push Charleston’s lead to double digits.
Johnson and Jordan Bailey each went 3 for 5 for the Golden Eagles, who amassed 17 hits against Gannon’s pitching staff. Cory Hedgus took the loss for Gannon (32-16), allowing six runs, all earned, on nine hits over four full innings.