Lenoir-Rhyne Baseball scored 11 unanswered runs and hit five home runs en route to a 12-5 thumping of UNC Pembroke in the opener of the NCAA Southeast Regional at North Greenville. The Bears win their first NCAA Tournament game since May 17, 2001 over Wingate. Joshua Lanham pitched eight innings and earned his program record-breaking 11th win, Drew Yniesta hit a three-run homer and had four RBIs, Wade Cuda went deep twice, and David Bell also homered on the first pitch of the day by UNC Pembroke.
“This is a great program win,” said head coach Chris Ramirez. “It took us a little while to get into our groove, but we know what our offense is capable of when it gets rolling, and we saw that today. Josh (Lanham) battled all day long for us, and the middle of our lineup really shined. This is a good team win over a good team in Pembroke.
“It’s taken a lot of work for us to get to this point, and it feels good that it’s paying off.”
UNC Pembroke struck first against Lanham in the 1st inning when Gage Hammonds hit a two-run home run, the first of eight home runs in the game between the two teams. Erick Ramirez made a key defensive play in the 1st inning to hold Pembroke to just two runs, throwing out Bobby Dixon at home plate to hold the Braves to two runs in the inning.
Bell blasted the first pitch he saw from Pembroke starter Darren Bowen over the left field fence to make it 2-1, but the Bears struggled on offense the next few innings. Blake Hinson hit a solo shot in the 3rd for Pembroke to extend the lead to 3-1.
The Bears were set down in order until the 5th when Wade Cuda smoked his 15th home run of the year to dead center field to make it 4-2. The Braves rallied in the 6th and scored an unearned run after an error put Trent Harris on base, and he eventually came around to score on a wild pitch to extend the lead to 5-2 and make things more difficult for the Bears.
Then, the floodgates opened in the 6th. Bell got his second hit of the game to lead off the inning, and then Cole Laskowski got hit by a pitch. Then, Drew Yniesta got the biggest hit of the season for the Bears, a no-doubter three-run home run to left center field to tie the game at 5. Nick Clarno followed up Yniesta with his 6th home run of the year over the right field fence, and it was 6-5 Bears, who would never relinquish the lead after that point. Clarno has now homered in back-to-back games after also going deep in the SAC Championship game against Wingate.
Cuda wasn’t done in the inning, poking his second home run of the game also over the right field fence to make it 7-5. This was Cuda’s third multi-homer game of the year. In total, the Bears sent eight men to the plate in the 6th and scored five runs.
After Lanham set down the Braves in the top of the 7th, the offense continued in the bottom of the 7th. Ramirez started the inning with a walk, and then after a strikeout, Laskowski was hit by a pitch again. Yniesta came up again and laced a ball down the left field line for a double, scoring Ramirez and moving Laskowski to 3rd base. Clarno then came up with two men and scoring position and smoked a ball to the fence in left center to score both runners. He then moved up to third on a wild pitch, and then after a walk to Luis Atiles, Cuda drove in his third run of the game with a sac fly. An infield single by Bryce Stober scored Atiles to round out the five-run frame.
Lanham finished the 8th and then gave way to Ben Friebel in the 9th, who induced a game-ending double play to secure the win for the Bears.
This was Lenoir-Rhyne’s first NCAA Tournament win in 7,672 days. The Bears last beat Wingate in the tournament on May 17, 2001. The five home runs are the second most the Bears have hit this year. They hit six on Feb. 19 against Shippensburg.
Lanham has now pitched 17 innings in the postseason, allowing four earned runs and striking out 25 batters. Yniesta adds to his single-season record run total of 64, and hit his 14th homer on the year. Yniesta and Clarno going back-to-back in the 6th was the third time the Bears have done that this season.
UNC Pembroke is the 8th ranked opponent the Bears have beaten this year.
The Bears will now take on host North Greenville Friday at 12 noon.