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May 15, 2008
SPARTANBURG, S.C. - In his more pessimistic thoughts, head coach Matt Fincher wondered if the USC Upstate baseball team would win another game this season while in the midst of a three-game losing streak. With no postseason possible due to the four-year provisionary process in the move to Division I and a Florida Gulf Coast team coming into Harley Park that had already clinched the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title for the final three games of the season, it was a possibility. He thought, "This team has had a better season than that."
The Spartans (24-28 overall, 16-15 A-Sun) proved they did, indeed, have a better season than that, on Thursday night, as sophomore Matt Branham (Columbia, S.C./Spring Valley) pitched a complete game six-hitter to carry his team to a 2-1 win against the Eagles. Upstate claimed the first win of the season against FGCU ace Richard Bleier in the process and helped the senior class win the 124th game of their careers to tie a school-record for the winningest class in school history.
The five seniors, Kyle Bowley (Apopka, Fla./Apopka), Mike Colecchi (Oxford, Mass./Quingsigmond C.C.), Scott Eckard (Lake Mary, Fla./Lake Mary), Casey Rivers (Hudson, Mass./Worcester State) and Andrew Runion (Simpsonville, S.C./Mauldin), were honored in a Senior Day presentation before the game. With their 124th win since coming to Upstate in the 2005 season, the five players tied the mark set by the Class of 2007 for the school record.
Branham dominated the Eagles (37-14 overall, 24-7 A-Sun) all game long, yielding just a one-out homer in the ninth before showing any signs of fatigue in his 138-pitch effort to finish the season. He retired the first eight batters he faced before a flair single to right field in the third inning.
Upstate's offense scratched an unearned run across against the Clemens Watch List pitcher Bleier in the first inning. With two outs, Runion reached on an overthrow by the third baseman to take second base and took third on a wild pitch. After a walk, junior Kyle Simpson (Lyman, S.C./Byrnes) lined a ball to the opposite field for a single to score Runion. The Spartans worked another run across in the fifth inning, as junior Eric Guillen (Thousand Oaks, Calif./Thousand Oaks) singled to right-center to lead off. A bunt single by sophomore Jimmy Tanner (Fayetteville, Ga./Stars Mill) moved Guillen to second. A failed sac bunt followed, but a wild pitch moved the runners up a base, allowing Guillen to score on a groundout.
That was all the offense Upstate needed as Branham went back to cruise control, retiring eight straight starting in the fourth inning. Finally, in the sixth inning, the Eagles started to get some offense started with Mikel Alvarez posting a single to right and Jason Peacock doubled to left-center with two outs, but Branham got a flyout to end the inning. He responded to allowing the runner reaching third by striking out the side in the seventh.
Ozzie Borrell hit a solo homer with one out in the ninth, starting a mini-rally as Casey Coleman followed with a single. A fielder's choice got the second out, but a walk put the winning run on base before Branham got a groundout to Runion at first to end the game.
Branham finishes his season with a 6-5 record and a 4.04 ERA. He struck out 57 and walked just 18 during his 84.2 innings, which is fifth in Upstate's single-season record book.
Bleier moves to 7-1 and his ERA lowered to 2.07 for the year after pitching seven innings, allowing six hits, one earned run and two walks. He struck out three in 112 pitches.
Guillen and Simpson each had two of Upstate's seven hits. Guillen added a run and Simpson had an RBI. No FGCU player had more than one hit, but Borrell's homer was his seventh of the season.
Upstate closes its first season at the Division I level on Friday afternoon as it wraps up its three-game set with FGCU with a doubleheader at 1 p.m. at Harley Park. The Eagles also close their first season at the Division I level, having wrapped up the Atlantic Sun Conference regular season title on last weekend at ETSU.