Not many Atlantic Sun Conference baseball teams could figure out how to defeat Stetson during the regular season.
Belmont can’t get enough of the Hatters.
The sixth-seeded Bruins rolled to a 15-3 victory over Stetson, the A-Sun regular-season champ and No. 1 seed, in the opening game of the conference tournament on Wednesday at Lipscomb’s Dugan Field. It was Belmont’s third straight victory over the Hatters (40-17), who went 23-7 in league play and were nationally ranked as late as last week before they dropped two of three to Belmont over the weekend. Those two wins in the final regular season series propelled Belmont into the tournament field and improved the Bruins' record against Stetson to 13-4 against Stetson over the last five years.
“They are a good team but we’re just hot right now,” Belmont second baseman Greg Brody said. “Good things are happening for us right now.”
Belmont (33-24) has won five of its last six and eight of 11 by playing with “their backs against the wall for a month and a half” as Bruins coach Dave Jarvis put it.
They’ll play at 3 p.m. on Thursday against the loser of the Kennesaw State/Mercer matchup in the second day of the double-elimination tournament.
“I really give a lot of credit to our assistant coaches and ... Derek Hamblen and Nate Woods as team captains, they have done a great job of making sure that sense of urgency was channeled in the right direction,” Jarvis said. “They have been a difference maker in that regard.”
The Bruins jumped to 3-0 lead in the second inning on a two-run home run by Hamblen. Woods added to it in the fifth inning when he lined a two-run home run — his 12th, which ties for the team lead — over the left-field wall. That was just a half an inning after Woods, Belmont’s first baseman, slammed into the wall in foul territory to catch the third out of the inning.
The Bruins broke it open with six runs in the sixth on five singles and three walks. They drew seven walks in the game, three of which ended up as runs.
“Our kids did a tremendous job of not giving away any at-bats and continuing to grind and grind and grind and really put some distance between us and them,” Jarvis said.
On the mound, starter Matt Hamann once again was sharp against Stetson. He pitched on just four days rest after having allowed only two runs on four hits in eight innings in a 5-2 victory over Stetson last week. On Wednesday, he had a no-hitter into the fifth and allowed just three hits and one walk in six innings of work.
Hamann moved to 9-1 and now leads the conference in wins this year. The junior started the year in the bullpen but moved into the starting rotation six weeks ago.
“He is unbelievable right now,” Brody said. “Every time he is on the hill, we know we have a chance to win with him.”
It was the Bruins’ first conference tournament win in two years. They failed to qualify in 2010. They haven’t reached the championship game in four years and have never captured the A-Sun tournament championship.
“Coming off a good win like that, it is always good for your confidence,” Brody said. “We stay humble about it and just come out here every day and play as hard as we can.”