CSU 6, Winthrop 4
Charleston Southern rallied from a late two-run deficit to complete a series sweep of visiting Winthrop at CSU Ballpark.
The win capped a record-setting weekend for the Buccaneers. They clinched their first winning season since 1996 and CSU closer Austin Weekley notched his 19th career save to become CSU's all-time saves leader.
Junior Bobby Ison added to his growing list of accomplishments, tying his own single-season CSU record with his 84th hit.
The Bucs moved to 29-21 overall and 11-12 in Big South play with their 12th win in their last 13 games. Winthrop fell to 22-30 and 12-12 in conference play.
CSU is just a half-game back of Winthrop and Coastal Carolina in the South Division. The Bucs also need just one win next week at VMI to clinch a spot in the Big South championship.
CSU's win on Sunday gives the Bucs a record 20 home wins in a season and a winning season for the first time since 1996. That Randy Mazey-coached Bucs team went 30-24-1 in 1996 and advanced to an NCAA Regional for the first time in school history.
CSU head coach Stuart Lake didn't shy away from how much the final month of the season has meant for his team and the Bucs' program.
"It's a big deal," Lake said of the Bucs clinching a winning season. "That was coach Mazey and our last team to go to a regional. I hope this team can follow in those steps. This was a great weekend for this program and a great way for these seniors to go out. They've worked hard all year. It hasn't been because of any smoke or any mirrors or anything like that. I'm very proud of this team and the two guys who set records today (Austin Weekly and Bobby Ison)."
The Bucs had to endure a two-hour rain delay in the bottom of the first and struggled following the delay. CSU fell behind 4-0 after three innings as Winthrop scored a pair of unearned runs during a three-run third. Second baseman Leighton Daniels had a solo home run in the first and an RBI single in the third to build the Eagles' lead.
CSU chipped away at the Winthrop lead, putting up a run in the third and fourth innings to cut the lead in half. Third baseman Alex Tomasovich singled home Bobby Ison in the third to score the Bucs' first run. Second baseman Cody Austin added an RBI single in the fourth as the Bucs took advantage of a Winthrop error.
The Bucs would execute perfectly in a four-run seventh to seize control. Austin's sacrifice bunt and walks to Zack Hagaman and Sam Remick set the table for the big inning. Brian Welch followed with a pinch-hit single to load the bases, and Ison followed with an RBI single to right field to tie the game, 4-4.
Designated hitter Andrew Widell proceeded to rip a two-run double into the right-field corner to push home Nate Blanchard and Ison to give CSU its final advantage.
Reliever Denis Buckley (3-1) worked 5.2 innings of scoreless relief to pick up the win.
"Buckley was really good today," Lake said. "We've been here all day (starting in the morning) and then that long rain delay. But even in that eighth inning, his fastball was still moving and had a lot of velocity on it late."
Weekley came on in the ninth to get a double play and fly out to pick up his 11th save of the season to go with the career record. He passes Payton Tweddale (2006) for first on CSU's all-time list.
"(The career saves record) really means a lot," Weekley said. "When I came in, I didn't think I'd be a closer. Right before we started my sophomore year, Coach Lake came up to me and told me I was the closer. I just play the ninth inning, that's it. It's the hitters and the starting pitchers that get us to that last inning. I just come in and get three outs."
Weekley has been lights out during the Bucs' recent tear. He has five saves and a win in CSU's last 13 games, a stretch in which he has not allowed an earned run. Though he knows it has been a top-to-bottom team effort to turn the season around."
"I realize how solid we've become," Weekley added. "The starting pitching has been great. The hitting, the defense has all been great. They've put us in position to win games. I just come in in the ninth and try to finish it off. We just need to keep playing hard, that's been the key to how we've won lately."
"I'm just very proud of this ball club right now," Lake added. "I remember standing in front of them when we were just 2-11 (Big South) and these guys just didn't quit. We went through a tough, tough stretch. We keep doing what we've been doing: keep showing up and coming to work. It's been a fun team to coach and I'll just try and stay out of the way."
The Bucs finish out the regular season with a busy week on the road. CSU travels to USC Upstate for a 6 p.m. start on Tuesday before closing out the regular season at VMI with a three-game series which begins on Thursday.