Thursday, May 23, 2013

Bumgardner Helps Spartans Capture Elusive Postseason Win

If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.

No longer does USC Upstate have to worry about getting its first Division I postseason win. Thanks to Gaither Bumgardner and Brandon Lee, the Spartans eliminated host Stetson, 6-0, and now can move on to more important things, like preparing for either No. 4 ETSU or No. 1 Mercer on Friday.

In their second trip in as many years to the A-Sun Championship, the Spartans got a look at their path through the bracket and were certainly counting on history not repeating itself. In last year’s championship, USC Upstate was eliminated by losses to Mercer and Stetson in its first two postseason games. Entering the 2013 championship as the No. 8 seed, the bracket looked all too familiar.

A 12-6 loss to No. 1 Mercer on Wednesday put the Spartans’ backs against the wall for the second straight year. Facing the Hatters on their home field, the Spartans got help – as they have all season – from All-Conference First-team selection Bumgardner, as well as pitcher Brandon Lee.

The Spartans have relied heavily on the 2012 A-Sun Player of the Year Bumgardner in the last several games, and he has delivered. For the championship he is now 6-for-10 (.600) with four runs scored, going 3-for-5 and scoring twice against Stetson on Thursday, following an identical effort against Mercer in Wednesday’s loss. Showing why he is the leading hitter on the fourth-best team in the A-Sun from the plate, Bumgardner helped the Spartans outhit the Hatters 15-3.

In fact, Bumgardner has been on a torrid pace the last two weeks for USC Upstate, hitting .632 in the final four games of the year while recording 12 hits and scoring four runs. He opened the final week of the season with four hits at No. 14 Clemson and then came back with eight hits in three games against North Florida. He also pitched 7.0 innings and allowed one run to lead Upstate to a walk-off victory in a must-win to advance to the A-Sun Championship.

As a follow-up to his award-winning season a year ago, Bumgardner did not disappoint. He hit .390 in conference play this season with 25 multi-hit games and 79 total hits to rank fourth in the league. He ended the season with 14 hits in the last five games and hit safely in 14 of the final 15 games of the year. The senior center fielder ranks in the top-four of several A-Sun career categories among active players, including tied for first in triples (10), second in hits (259), third in runs scored (128), fourth in RBI (118) and at-bats (744).

For Lee, his 14th appearance of the season was solid. Tossing his third complete game of the season, Lee struck out five and allowed one walk and no extra base hits. He limited A-Sun Freshman of the Year Patrick Mazeika to one of the only three Stetson hits on the day. Lee’s work throughout the season was also a boost for the Spartans, as in A-Sun games he led the league with 52 strikeouts in 66.1 innings of work.

So now the Spartans move into unchartered territory for the program, awaiting the winner of ETSU and Mercer, teams against which Upstate posts a combined 1-6 record this season.

However, the Spartans have new life, they have removed the “winless in postseason” monkey off their backs and they continue to receive superb play from their best players when they need it.

They have advanced, and they get to try once again.

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