Boca Raton, FL - The Florida Atlantic University baseball team won the Sun Belt Conference regular-season championship in dramatic fashion, scoring three runs in the bottom of the ninth inning for a 4-3 victory over FIU on Friday night at the FAU Baseball Stadium. The title is the second in the last three years for the Owls.
"Winning the conference title is a big deal," said John McCormack, FAU's head baseball coach. "For 10 weeks we have shown that we have been the best team in the conference. I think that is a big deal. This was one of the goals that we set at the beginning of the season. We will be the No. 1 seed in the tournament and that gives us some extra strength going forward."
Senior outfielder Alex Hudak tied the game, 3-3, with a two-run double off the right field wall in the bottom of the ninth inning. Hudak's hit scored junior outfielder Nathan Pittman and senior infielder Mike Albaladejo. Two more walks followed to load the bases, setting up Keller's critical at-bat.
"I was looking to be aggressive and looking for something to drive into the outfield so the runner at third (Seigel) could tag up," said Keller. "I did not get nervous, even with two strikes. I knew it was going to fall. It was nice to see to see the ball actually drop. You don't get many chances to win the conference on a walk-off. It feels good."
The Owls could not take advantage of scoring chances earlier in the game. The team loaded the bases with one out in the bottom of the seventh inning. However, FIU got out of the situation with consecutive strikeouts. FAU also had a lead-off hitter get into scoring position in the eighth inning, but once again couldn't score.
However, FAU finally broke through in the ninth inning against FIU closer Michael Gomez, who walked Pittman and Albaladejo to begin the ninth-inning rally.
FIU (31-23, 15-14 Sun Belt) built a 3-0 lead in the fourth inning. Pablo Bermundez led off the game with a home run, while Jabari Henry drove in a run to cap a two-run first inning. Oscar Aguirre also hit a solo home run in the fourth inning.
FAU chipped away with a solo home run from junior third baseman Kyle Newton in the fourth inning. Newton's blast to left field was his seventh of the season, tying for team-high honors. The junior also shined in the field, contributing to three double plays to keep the visiting Panthers from moving too far away.
Keller had three hits to lead Florida Atlantic's 11-hit offensive attack. Newton and freshman shortstop Mitch Morales each had two hits in the victory. Sophomore outfielder Geoff Jimenez, Albaladejo and Hudak also slapped one hit each.
Freshman reliever Bo Logan picked up the victory, tossing three innings and tallying four strikeouts. The left hander improved to 4-3 on the season and has allowed just one base runner over his last 6.1 innings and two appearances.
Sophomore Kevin Alexanderreceived a no-decision after allowing three runs over six innings with four strikeouts.
FIU's Michael Ellis struck out eight batters and scattered nine hits over 6.1 innings. Gomez suffered the loss, dropping to 1-4 on the season after allowing five walks and three runs allowed.
FAU will wrap up the regular season on Saturday, May 19, at 1 p.m. against FIU. The program will honor seniors Mike Albaladejo, Ahmed Garcia, Ryan Garton, Josh Gonzaga, Alex Hudak, Mike Tomasi and student manager Andy Poole during pregame Senior Day festivities.
Live audio and statistics of the game can be found at www.fausports.com.