OZARK, Ala. — The Stillman Tigers entered this week’s SIAC Baseball Championship with questions to be answered and responses being few and far between. Could the team shake off the recent set of defensive issues and play well enough to be competitive? Would the team’s pitching hold up during the tournament? Could the team playing with 11 seniors find their way back to the tournament championship? Could the Tigers overcome sub-par performances near the end of the season and repeat as champions? The answer to those questions proved all to be the same: YES.
On the strength of strong pitching, aggressive hitting and stellar base running, Stillman found just what they needed to repeat as champions of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. Entering Saturday, Stillman knew it needed two strong contests if it were to have a chance at defending its title.
As Saturday drew to a close, a 10-2 win over Eastern Division winner Albany State and an 8-7 emotional win over Tuskegee – who entered that contest undefeated in the tournament in need of a single win to unset Stillman – propelled the two teams from Alabama into a winner-take-all finale on Sunday.
On day five of the tournament, Stillman took advantage of eight hits, four Tuskegee errors as they defeated the rival Golden Tigers 8-1 at historic Eagle Stadium. Playing in front of a near capacity crowd, Stillman proved to be functioning on all cylinders while Tuskegee struggled to push runs across the plate. After going scoreless in the first two innings, Stillman scored twice – the first on an RBI single by Nick Baldelli-Boggs and the second on a Brad Sevenish groundout.
Tuskegee broke into the scoring column in the top of the fifth inning when Russell Cornin opened the inning on a single and scored on an RBI single by Brandon Mapp.
Stillman responded in the bottom of the inning, scoring four runs on five hits and a Tuskegee error to build a 6-1 lead after five innings of action. In the eighth, Anthony Delgado reached on an error before scoring on Dustin Dunn’s single before Paul Winterbottom (reached on an intentional walk) scored on a sacrifice fly by Fernando Tanaka.
Stillman pitcher Ashton Johnson pitched five innings, scattering seven hits, walking one and striking out one. He went 2-0 in the tournament, pitching 14 innings and registering a 0.64 ERA with seven strikeouts. Johnson was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player. Tyler Vails pitched the final four innings of the tournament, scattering three hits and striking out four – including two of the final three batters of the game.
Joining Johnson on the all-tournament team were third baseman Anthony Delgado and shortstop Fernando Tanaka. Delgado led the team with a .476 batting average this week, going 10-for-21 with six runs scored, and six runs batted in. Tanaka batted .318 over six games, scoring seven times, driving in four runs, drawing five walks and finishing with four stolen bases. Stillman head coach Donny Crawford was named the event’s Most Outstanding Coach.
Other outstanding performances came from second baseman Dustin Dunn and pitcher Tyler Vails. Dunn batted .385 going 10-for-26 with seven runs scored and four runs batted in. Vails made three appearances, going 1-0 with a 1.08 ERA, nine strikeouts and a save.
The tournament is the fourth consecutive title for Stillman and the seventh over the last eight years. Stillman also is 13-1 in SIAC tournament play at Eagle Stadium.
Stillman will now await the pairings of the 2014 NCAA Division II South Regional Tournament with the location still to be determined.
2014 SIAC BASEBALL ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
1. Ashton Johnson - Stillman College
2. Fernando Tanaka - Stillman College
3. Nick Baldelli-Boggs - Stillman College
4. Cash Oliver - Tuskegee University
5. Gene Moody - Tuskegee University
6. Danny Barnes - Tuskegee University
7. Robert Latner - Albany State University
8. Ryan Latner - Albany State University
9. Jacob Campbell - Albany State University
10. Kyle Clark - Kentucky State University
Tournament MVP: Ashton Johnson - Stillman College
Most Outstanding Coach: Donny Crawford - Stillman College
Third Place: Albany State University
Runner-Up: Tuskegee University