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SPARTANBURG, S.C. – With its season hanging in the balance Saturday, the USC Upstate baseball team proved resilient down to the final out, rallying with a pair of ninth-inning runs to walk-off with a 4-3 victory over North Florida and secure a spot in the A-Sun Championship.
Entering the final day of the regular season, Upstate needed to earn a win over North Florida and have ETSU complete the series sweep over Jacksonville to advance to the 2013 Atlantic Sun Conference Championship in Deland, Fla.
The Spartans were one strike away three different times from ending the game in the top of the ninth, as Chad Sobotka was in search of his eighth save of the season with a 2-1 lead, but North Florida had other plans as a two-out two-run double stunned the Upstate crowd and gave the Ospreys a 3-2 lead heading to the bottom half of the frame.
In a must-win situation to keep their season alive, the Spartans used back-to-back singles from Tyler Miller and Jordan Stampler and a perfect sacrifice bunt from Erik Samples to put the tying and winning runs in scoring position. After Luke Weber was intentionally walked to load the bases, Brody Greer worked the count full and coaxed a walk to knot the score 3-3.
Tyler Lesch then came to the plate and lined the third pitch of the at-bat through the right side to plate Stampler and give Upstate a 4-3 walk-off victory in dramatic fashion.
"It shows a lot of character that the guys rallied and were able to string something together in a situation as tough as that, said USC Upstate Head Coach Matt Fincher. "We always tell them to keep playing and give yourself a chance and they did that today and more."
Still needing help from ETSU to clinch a spot in the tournament, the Buccaneers blew open a tie game in the sixth inning with eight runs and earned an 11-4 victory over Jacksonville as the perfect storm concluded and the Spartans emerged as the No. 8 seed in the A-Sun Championship.
"It's a new season and that is exactly what I told the guys right after the game, said Fincher. "You wipe the slate clean and anything can happen when you get to the tournament."
Holding the Ospreys off the board through the first 7.0 innings, Gaither Bumgardner's gutsy performance will go down as one of the best of his career, keeping Upstate in the must-win game as he allowed just one run and added four strikeouts.
He also added three hits and an RBI in the game before leaving the contest after being hit by a pick-off attempt at second base in the seventh inning, moments after driving in the go-ahead run to give the Spartans a 2-1 lead.
Weber was the hero early, striking in the first inning with his fifth home run of the year to give Upstate a 1-0 lead that held true until the sixth inning.
The Spartans are set to make their second straight appearance in the A-Sun Championship after making the trip as the No. 2 seed a year ago. Upstate will however be in search of its first Division I postseason victory after going 0-2 in the A-Sun Tournament a season ago.
A first-round matchup with top-seeded and regular season champion Mercer waits in the opening round Wednesday at a time to be announced by the conference office.