Walk-off pinch hit lifts Falcons to win in tourney opener

FROM STAFF REPORTS

University of Montevallo freshman pinch-hitter Vinny Rodriguez lofted an RBI double to deep right-center field to score senior Josh Headley for the game-winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning as the Falcons made their Peach Belt Conference Tournament debut a successful one May 9 with a 5-4 victory over 13th-ranked USC Aiken.

The eight-team double-elimination tournament is being played at 5,000-seat Golden Park in downtown Columbus, Ga.

Montevallo (25-26), the West Division’s No. 2 seed, advances to face the Armstrong Atlantic State University/North Georgia College and State University winner on May 10 at 12:30 p.m.

Headley began the winning sequence with a one-out single through the right side. Rodriguez then took the third pitch from Pacer reliever Jake Padgett and drove it onto the warning track just in front of the fence some 390 feet from home plate.

Montevallo closer Wes Rich, a Pelham High School graduate earned the win with 1 2/3 scoreless innings. USC-Aiken reliever Tyler Stephan, who preceded Padgett, was tagged with the loss.

The Falcons took a 4-0 advantage with four runs in the bottom of the third, thanks in part to some wildness from USC-Aiken starter Ryan Milewski. A pair of hit batters and a single loaded the bases with no outs. Sophomore Will Fulmer scored the game’s first run when Milewski uncorked a wild pitch that went to the backstop. Designated hitter Chris Ross, a Pelham High School graduate, then hooked a 1-0 offering into the right field corner for a two-run double.

Ross moved to third on a sacrifice bunt and then came home with the fourth run of the frame on a sacrifice fly to center by senior Blaine Rosenberg, an Oak Mountain High School graduate.

The Pacers crept to within 4-1 in the top of the fifth. Left fielder Nick Aranas was hit by a pitch to lead off the inning and moved to third on a single by designated hitter Bill Gerstenslager. Aranas then scored as the Falcons turned a double play on a ground ball to short by Ty Barkell.

USC-Aiken cut the margin to 4-3 by scoring twice in the sixth without the benefit of a hit. A hit batter and two walks loaded the bases with two outs. With Gerstenslager at the plate, Pacer leadoff batter Bryce Baur scored on a wild pitch and a handful of pitches later Will Tankersley scampered home on Michael Shreves’ second wild offering of the at bat.

Montevallo senior Kirk Waligora saved a run in the top of the eighth with a diving catch in deep center field off the bat of the speedy Stephen Carmon. The catch prevented a sure lead-off triple.  However the next Pacer batter, catcher Josh Miller, knotted the score at 4-4 with a towering solo home run to left that chased Shreves from the contest.

The Falcons threatened in the last of the eighth, but junior Austin Dubberly, a Pelham High School graduate, was tagged out at home on a safety squeeze attempt.  Dubberly singled to center with one out and moved to third on a single by Rosenberg that was errored on in left field.

USC-Aiken took its initial lead with a manufactured run in the top of the ninth.  Gerstenslager singled to left center and was replaced by pinch runner Dylan Durham, who moved to second on a sacrifice bunt, to third on a fly ball to center, and then came home on an RBI single through the right side by third baseman J.J. Loker.

However, Montevallo answered with a manufactured tally of its own in the bottom of the ninth. Junior Vincente Andrews walked with one out and was removed for pinch runner Zack Willoughby, who advanced to third on a single by Heath Peterson and scored on a sacrifice fly to left by Ross. Willoughby beat the relay throw home with a head-first slide to the outside part of home plate.

Dubberly, who went 2-for-4, and Gerstenslager, who finished 2-for-3, were the lone batters to record multi-hits.