March 7, 2010
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. -- Pinch hitter Devin Hamilton delivered in the bottom of the ninth Sunday to lift the UAB baseball team to a 4-3 victory over Eastern Illinois as the Blazers won their second consecutive weekend series.
After a double from right fielder Ryan Ussery and a sacrifice bunt from third baseman Andrew Manning put the potential winning run at third base with one out, Hamilton approached the plate for just his second at-bat of the season.
The sophomore left-handed batter watched the first two pitches from Eastern Illinois reliever Matt Miller miss the strike zone and then lined the third pitch he saw deep over the head of Panthers' left fielder Curt Restko to score Ussery from third base.
"That's a hard thing to do after sitting around for nine innings waiting for your chance," UAB head coach Brian Shoop said. "I told Devin before the inning that he was going to get his shot if we got into an RBI situation, and he was ready.
"When guys who don't always play a lot come through with a big hit like that, it thrills my heart as much as anything. I'm happy for Devin to have the chance to be the hero for us today."
Prior to the two ninth-inning hits for UAB (6-3), the Blazers had managed only four hits through the first eight frames against Eastern Illinois starter Brent McNeil and the relief combination of Rich Ruff and Miller, who wound up with the loss.
But the UAB pitching staff was equally tough on the hitters from Eastern Illinois (1-8), allowing just five hits on the day. Starter Beau Pender turned in his second straight quality start and allowed two runs over six innings while striking out seven. Following one and two-thirds innings of relief from Benji Waite, UAB's Nick Graffeo held Eastern Illinois hitless over the final one and one-third innings to earn the win.
Graffeo entered with two outs in the top of the eighth and inherited the potential go-ahead run at second base. After a wild pitch moved that runner to third, Graffeo induced a ground ball out to keep the game tied. The senior right-hander then struck out the side in the ninth, paving the way for Hamilton's game-winning hit.
"We were fortunate to win this game," Shoop said. "It was sort of a disappointing offensive game, but McNeil pitched really well for them. Beau was very good again for us, and Nick was strong to finish it off."
Eastern Illinois managed single runs in the fourth, sixth and seventh innings, while the Blazers scored each of their first three runs in the sixth. An Eastern Illinois error and three walks helped the UAB cause as the Blazers scored on a sacrifice fly from shortstop Jonathan Merritt, a fielder's choice from catcher Digger Towe and an RBI single from designated hitter John Frost.
Frost finished the day 2-for-3 with a walk, and Ussery went 1-for-2 with a pair of walks. First baseman Luke Stewart and left fielder Mikael Saway also reached twice on walks. Frost extended his hitting streak to six games, while Merritt saw his seven-game streak come to an end.
Eastern Illinois left fielder Ben Thoma led the Panthers with a 2-for-4 effort, including a solo home run.
UAB returns to action Tuesday with a midweek contest against Alabama A&M at Young Memorial Field. Game time is set for 3 p.m. CT, and all UAB employees will receive $1 admission with a valid UAB ID.