The UNCW baseball team roundly dispelled any notion of nerves on the brink of NCAA elimination during a 3-hour, 15-minute rain delay Sunday.
During the wait, the Seahawks challenged Tulane to tic-tac-toe, a fungo home run derby and a free throw-shooting contest on a mini-basketball hoop. Joe Bertone made the few fans who stuck it out laugh, using a mock pro wrestling routine to pin teammate Steven Linkous. Captured by ESPN’s cameras, the bit had spread around the Internet by the 7:15 p.m. first pitch.
When the skies finally cleared, UNCW proved ready to fight for its season with an 8-2 win. The Seahawks scored six runs in the third inning, and junior right-hander Nick Monroe fell one out short of a shutout in their second victory over the Green Wave here.
“We were pretty relaxed,” left fielder and leadoff hitter Terence Connelly said. “We don’t really get caught up in the moment too much. We were just relaxed and ready to go.”
UNCW’s reward for that season-extending victory is another chance against host LSU in the regional’s championship round. The second game scheduled for Sunday was pushed to 1 p.m. Monday.
The Seahawks (41-17) will have to beat the Tigers in that one and again at 8 p.m. to advance to their first Super Regional. It’s their fourth time making the final two in seven regional trips and first since 2008.
“We just need to come compete and play the game the best we possibly can with the energy that we can,” coach Mark Scalf said. “Show up and let the cards fall where they may.”
The weather fouled up the schedule for a third straight day. This delay provided more rest for Scalf’s team on the heels of a late-night loss to LSU.
UNCW – shut out Saturday by Alex Lange – responded with the offensive bounce-back it had to have against the Green Wave (35-25). Second baseman Zack Canada paced that effort with three hits and two RBIs in his first NCAA start.
The Seahawks pounded Tulane’s Alex Massey in his second trip through the order. They sent 10 men to the plate in a six-run third that unfolded in strikingly familiar fashion.
First baseman Tyler Wilson played a Linkous grounder into a two-base error to kick-start the momentum-seizing rally. His teammates came through with one good swing after another to keep it going. Five singles, a walk and a Gavin Stupienski double got the job done.
UNCW followed a similar formula Friday, using a seven-run fourth to steamroll Tulane 10-1. That crooked inning was fueled by seven singles and some Green Wave sloppiness.
“That second time through I think everyone felt more comfortable and knew what (Massey) was trying to attack us with,” Connelly said. “We had a better game plan.”
Monroe made the big lead stand up with room to spare. Monroe (4-3, 6.23 ERA) has had his troubles this season, but he provided a quality start that allowed UNCW to save its bullpen for LSU.
Monroe allowed two runs on six hits and five walks in 82/3 innings. He still had the shutout intact when he left with the bases loaded and two outs in the ninth. It was his first win since April 10.
“I think I was just working easier,” Monroe said. “Letting my arm do what it naturally does and not trying to force things. The fastball was coming out really good.”
UNCW figured it would have to turn around and play LSU right away Sunday night until an announcement about the revised schedule was made before the ninth inning. That decision came directly from the NCAA. Afterward, LSU athletic director Joe Alleva called it “ridiculous.”
The Seahawks still have their work cut out for them, but it should help to avoid another late night.
“It was a long day,” Scalf said. “It’s been a long two or three days.”