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Bearcats title run ends in regionals

RALEIGH, N.C.  RALEIGH, N.C.  No. 23 Ole Miss snapped a 2-2 tie with two runs in the seventh inning and the SEC-member Rebels (38-23) went on to beat Binghamton 8-4 win in an NCAA elimination game at the Raleigh Regional. The America East champion Bearcats (30-25), who played host and seventh-ranked NC State tight in an opening-round loss, concluded their third 30-win season in the last seven years.

After Binghamton tied the game against All-American pitcher Bobby Wahl (10-0) with a run in the bottom of the sixth, Ole Miss responded with two runs on three singles and a stolen base in the pivotal seventh. The Rebels, making their 18th NCAA appearance, then broke the game open with four runs in the eighth inning  the final two unearned after an infield error. Binghamton, which nearly matched their nationally-ranked foe in hits (13-10), completed the scoring with two unearned runs in the eighth.

The loss overshadowed a gutsy performance from senior starter Jake Lambert (7-3), who went 6.1 innings and kept the Rebels off balance with eight strikeouts and no walks. After giving up two runs in the first frame, Lambert pitched five scoreless until running out of gas in the seventh.

Even after falling behind 4-2, BU didnt go away quietly, putting two runners on in the bottom of the seventh to bring the go-ahead run to the plate. Sophomore outfielder Zach Blanden continued his exceptional showing at the Regional with a one-out single. After a lineout to second, Thomas walked, sending up clean-up hitter Nevares, who flew out to center to end the threat.

But the wheels came off in the eighth as Ole Miss sent nine men to the plate and scored four runs on just two hits.

The Bearcats still kept grinding in the eighth inning, loading the bases with no out and scoring two unearned runs to tighten the score and bring the tying run to the on-deck circle. One of the teams two hits in the inning came off the bat of Blanden, who finished off an incredible two-game regional with his fourth hit of the game and seventh of the tournament. The Bearcats brought seven men to the plate but stranded two with a called third strike to end their final threat.
The Rebels struck for two runs in the first inning, cashing in on three singles and a Lambert wild pitch. Lambert fanned two in the frame, including the final batter with a runner on base. The runs snapped a 23-inning streak spanning five starts when he didnt allow an earned run.

Blanden took the first pitch he saw from Wahl, the ERA leader in the powerful SEC (1.99) and sent it past the bag at first for a leadoff single. But back-to-back fielders choice groundouts and an infield pop-up left one stranded in the first.

Lambert began to settle in after the first, and he got out of a two-on, no-out jam in the third with some exceptional pitching. With runners on second and third, Lambert got back-to-back strikeouts and a groundout to escape unscathed. Lambert struck out seven in the first four innings.

After stranding two runners in the second, BU got on the board in the third. Blanden led off with a ground rule double just inside the right field line. Two batters later, leading hitter Jake Thomas came through with an RBI single to center, plating Blanden and cutting BUs deficit in half, 2-1.

Much like Fridays opener, BU put runners on base early but lacked the timely hit. The teams leadoff hitter reached in each of the first four innings but BU left five stranded in that stretch and 10 for the game.

Thomas and sophomore catcher Nick Pancerella teamed up to end the Ole Miss fifth inning with a flare. The Rebels used a two-out single and stolen base to put a runner on second before Thomas charged to field the ensuing single to left and fired a bullet to the plate, where Pancerella applied the tag to keep the score at 2-1.

After Lambert set down the side in order in the sixth, Nevares opened the bottom of the frame with a sharp single through the left side on a 3-2 pitch. Junior Shaun McGraw dropped down a good sacrifice bunt and classmate Brian Ruby followed with a single to shallow center, putting runners on first and third. Senior DH Jordon Smucker hit a two-strike pitch to left center, scoring Nevares with the sacrifice fly and tying the game at 2-2.

NOTES
Blanden went 7-for-9 in the two games  Thomas threw out two baserunners from left field  one at the plate in the fifth inning and another at second in the ninth  Pancerella threw out a baserunner in the ninth for his third caught stealing of the regional  Binghamton collected 18 hits in its two games at the regional and its pitchers fanned 16 batters ... The Bearcats were playing in the NCAA Regional for the second time in five years - both times in the state of North Carolina  Binghamton is slated to return all nine position players who led the teams run to the America East championship.

(Courtesy: BU Athletics)

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