Belmont Abbey defeats USC Aiken, wins Southeast Regional

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AIKEN, S.C. – The Belmont Abbey Crusaders completed an unprecedented run through the 2009 NCAA Southeast Regional tournament as they defeated the top-seeded and fifth-ranked USC Aiken Pacers 11-5 in the championship game on Sunday in Aiken.

The Crusaders will make their first-ever appearance in the NCAA Division II National Championships after sweeping all four games in the regional.

The Crusaders advance to the national championships which begin next Saturday, May 23, at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. The National Championships will be hosted by Mt. Olive College and the city of Cary. Belmont Abbey (38-24) will play in the first game of the tournament at 1:00 pm.

The Pacers (42-19) started Sunday’s regional final with a run in the first as Ken Raborn doubled in Alex Franklin. USCA had the chance to add more but could not due to a baserunning error as Raborn tried to stop between third and home on a single by Jamie Benjamin only to be caught in a rundown to end the inning.

The score was 1-0 until the bottom of the third as Belmont Abbey got to USCA starter Jeremy Smith. Patrick Atwell drew a leadoff walk and then scored from first on Tyler McKenzie’s RBI double down the left field line. McKenzie then scored on a Daniel Kassouf single. Danny Brion then took the next pitch from Smith over the wall in right center for the lone home run of the game and gave Belmont Abbey a 4-1 lead.

The Pacers threatened again in the fourth with runners at first and third with one out, but Sherrer grounded into a double play to end the inning. Another Aiken threat was snuffed out in the fifth when Atwell made a sliding catch in right field on a dying flare from Raborn for the third out with a runner on. USCA had the bases loaded in the sixth with one out but a ground ball that hit a baserunner was followed by a strikeout that ended the inning.

Belmont Abbey increased their lead to 6-1 in the seventh. Brion led off with a single followed by a walk to Spencer Sobol. After both runners moved up a base on a Carlos Vasquez sac bunt, Josh Frazier sent a high chopper over the infield that brought both runners in. That was the end of the day for Smith (L, 6-4), who walked four and struck out four.

Zach Horne started the eighth in relief of Merritt (W, 3-1). Merritt pitched seven full, scattering eight hits and allowing the one run and walking five while striking out three.

The lead increased to 11-1 in the bottom of the eighth as Belmont Abbey scored five more. The Pacers got some hits in the ninth, but were simply too far back to rally despite scoring four runs.

Belmont Abbey’s Brion finished the day 3-for-5 with three runs and three RBIs while McKenzie was also 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs. Frazier also drove in a pair as he went 1-for-4 with a run scored. Kassouf, named the tournament MVP, was 2-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored. Four of the Crusaders’ 14 hits went for extra bases.

Benjamin had three hits in four at-bats to lead USC Aiken. He also scored twice. Raborn finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and a run. Gary Asbill and John Sherrer also had two hits each.