WILSON, N.C. – The Huntingdon baseball team won twice on Sunday to capture its first USA South Athletic Conference championship.
Behind a dominant pitching performance from Tournament MVP Zach McGrady, the Hawks beat Maryville 1-0 to force a deciding Game 2. In the final game, with runners on second and third and two outs, left fielder Alec Raley made a diving catch to preserve a 9-8 win.
This is the first conference title for the Hawks (24-17) since their final season in the Great South Athletic Conference in 2012.
"We've won some conference championships before, but this one might be the sweetest one of the bunch," Huntingdon head coach D.J. Conville said. "This is one of the hardest working teams I've had and these guys are good players, good people and good representatives of our school. It's awesome when guys like that work hard and good things happen for them.
"It's been a roller-coaster year. We've beaten some really good teams and we've lost some we shouldn't have. We came into the tournament as the No. 7 seed. To see these guys play as hard as they have the past four days, to see so many different players step up when we've needed them to, this conference championship is truly a total team win."
With Sunday's conference title, Huntingdon earns an automatic berth in a NCAA Regional. This is just the second time Huntingdon has reached the postseason as a NCAA program and the first time since qualifying as an Independent in 2013.
McGrady (7-4) pitched his second complete game of the tournament to help the Hawks get their first win of the day. In a pitchers' duel, McGrady and Maryville's Seth Debity (7-5) combined for 17 strikeouts, issued just three walks and each allowed four hits in the 1-0 game.
McGrady finished with eight strikeouts, a walk and four hits in nine innings. For the tournament, the junior struck out 13, walked four, gave up 10 hits and allowed two runs in 18 innings.
"He was dominant for us," Conville said. "He was our Game 2 starter most of the season but earlier this month we made the decision to make him our Game 1 starter. He proved that was the right decision. He came out and threw a really good game on Thursday in the first round of the tournament. As good as he was Thursday, he was even better today."
Mason Throneberry scored the only run of the game on a sacrifice bunt by Josh Hines in the second inning. Landon Sessions had two of the Hawks' four hits in Game 1.
In Game 2, Huntingdon and Maryville (29-15) combined for eight runs in the first two innings as the Scots took an early 5-3 lead. The Hawks answered with six runs in the fourth inning to go ahead 9-5. Maryville made it 9-7 in the sixth inning.
Maryville put runners in scoring position in the eighth and ninth innings. In the eighth, with runners on second and third and two outs, relief pitcher Patrick Kucera forced a ground out to end the inning.
In the ninth, Throneberry came on in relief of Kucera with a runner on first. The Hawks recorded the first out of the inning but proceeded to load the bases. Maryville scored one run on a ground out to set up Raley's diving catch to end the game.
"There were a lot of key moments and big individual plays the past few days," Conville said. "That catch was a play where either we were going to make it and be conference champions or they were going to be conference champions.
"If he doesn't come up with the ball, both runs are going to score and we lose on a walk-off. It was a do-or-die play and he made it."
Zack Watson (5-5) earned the win in six innings, striking out five, walking three, allowing 10 hits, three earned runs and four unearned runs. Kucera pitched two innings, allowing one earned run and Throneberry recorded his fifth save of the season.
Gunnar Peters drove in three runs and had two hits in Game 2. Peters was one of four Hawks with multiple hits. Anthony Spivey and Josh Jackson each had two hits and two runs and Sessions had two hits and one run.
Raley had two runs and an RBI, Kucera and Hines each had an RBI and a run and Jordan Criswell drove in one run.
Hines, Spivey and Criswell joined McGrady on the All-Tournament team.
Huntingdon returns to action on Tuesday at Belhaven at 4 p.m.