LEBANON, Tenn. – TJ Murphy hit a pair of home runs, Antonio Butler produced four hits, including a game-winning single, and Will Locante threw a complete-game two-hitter as No. 5 Cumberland University swept Mid-Continent University, 4-3 and 3-2, Thursday at Ernest L. Stockton Field.
Cumberland (41-12, 19-4 TranSouth Conference) will close out the regular season with the final game of the series against the Cougars at 2 p.m. Friday.
Butler, who was named the Music City Star of the Game, capped a 3-for-3 opening game with a sixth-inning, two-out double to left, scoring Daniel Harrison from second. The courtesy runner was on for David Fanshawe, who singled through the left side with one out in the frame. Harrison moved to third on a groundout before scoring the game-winning run on Butler’s second double of the day.
The late-inning heroics by Butler helped give Bulldog ace Aaron Wilkerson his 11th win in as many starts this season. The Waco, Texas, native worked around four hits and three walks, while striking out nine to pick up his 25th straight decision. One of the walks came in the seventh inning, but Wilkerson got Trevor Buford to line into a game-ending double play.
Murphy, playing in his 100th game at Cumberland, opened the scoring for the Bulldogs with his first career home run to right field. The no-doubter gave CU a 2-0 advantage after Greg Appleton singled to left on the first pitch of the inning.
A pair of one-out walks and a wild pitch by Tomas Rodriguez in the fourth inning turned into another Cumberland run as Antonio Butler dribbled a slow grounder to third baseman Tyler Johnson, who looked to the plate but never made a throw as Harrison, who was running for catcher Fanshawe, slid in safely. With runners on first and second, the Bulldogs were unable to tack on any more runs as Greg Appleton grounded into a 6-4-3 double play.
Mid-Continent carried the momentum to the plate, where the Cougars tagged Wilkerson for three runs in the top of the fifth, the most given up in a game by the right-hander since the Cumberland’s 4-3 win over Lee University in last year’s NAIA World Series Championship Game. The runs all came on a home run to right field by Buford, who left the field limping after taking a hard shot from a sliding Butler on the double play that ended the previous inning.
The second game of the doubleheader started just like the first with Appleton singling to left field before Murphy sent a home run to right field.
Locante kept the Cougars hitless for 4 2/3 innings before back-to-back singles plated two unearned runs. Buford led off the fifth with a grounder to Tommy Crews, who lost the ball on the transfer from his glove. A walk and a sacrifice bunt put two runners in scoring position with one out before Locante struck out Daniel Edwards. Nathan Lawrence and Adam Connor then produced the only two Mid-Continent hits of the contest, knotting the game at 2-2.
Crews hit a one-out single in the bottom of the seventh, ending a stretch of 13 straight batters retired by Tyler Hall. Fanshawe followed with a single through the right side, forcing Mid-Continent to go to the bullpen. Hunter Burge got Jesse Bowman swinging before Butler drew a walk to load the bases for Appleton, who also took a walk to bring the game-winning run home.
Locante (7-2) struck out six and worked around seven walks to earn the victory.