VMI wins Senior Day slugfest

Graham Sullivan went 5 for 5, setting a new career-high for hits in a game, and VMI scored 10 runs in the sixth inning to break the game open as the Keydets defeated the High Point Panthers, 17-12, in the regular season finale for both Big South teams Saturday at Gray-Minor Stadium.

Sullivan’s five hits surpassed his previous career-high of four, which he had accomplished three times in his career. The Keydet outfielder singled in the first, had a sacrifice fly in the third, doubled in the fifth, singled and doubled in the 10-run sixth and capped his day with a single in the eighth. The senior hit .412 at Gray-Minor Stadium this year, and led the squad with a .358 average overall.

On this day, the Keydets took a 7-6 lead into the sixth, when Sam Roberts tripled with one out. Sullivan greeted reliever Kyle Wigmore with an RBI single, and George Piccirilli homered to left-center, just to the right of the scoreboard, giving the Keydets a 10-6 edge. Andrew Montague followed with a single, and after Jacob Morley lined to left for the second out, the next five batters reached against Wigmore to knock him out of the game. Chase Worthington was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded, pushing the VMI lead to five, and Justin Hess followed with a two-run single to make it 13-6.

Roberts then walked to load the bases, and Sullivan was the first hitter to face reliever Adam Pratson. The left fielder hammered the ball to left-center for a three-run double and Piccirilli capped the scoring with an RBI single, giving VMI (27-23-1, 14-13 Big South) its first 10-run inning since April 22, 2006, when VMI scored 11 runs in a frame against Birmingham-Southern.

In addition to Sullivan’s 5 for 5 day, he also drove in five runs, a career high. Rob Dickinson was 3 for 4, and Alex Haitsuka and Piccirilli both homered to back Campbell Henkel (3-0), who picked up the win in relief. Steve Schils (0-2) took the loss for High Point (24-31, 9-18). Neither starter, John Garrett of VMI or Mike Petilli of HPU, figured in the decision.

The Keydets drew first blood on the clear, warm day, with temperatures nearing 80 degrees. Sullivan had an infield hit with one out, and one out later, Haitsuka launched a two-run home run to left field, putting the Keydets up 2-0. They scored two more in the second, when Roberts walked to plate a run, and Sullivan had a sacrifice fly to make it 4-0, VMI.

The Panthers took the lead in the third, striking for five runs off Garrett. Sal Pezzino had a sacrifice fly for the first run, and two batters later, Steve Antolik had an RBI single to cut the lead to 4-2. Robbie Gillis and Ryan Retz had RBI hits of their own, knotting the score at 4, before a throwing error on Haitsuka gave High Point the 5-4 edge.

The visitors would add a run in the fifth, when Murray White IV singled with one out. He moved to second on a ground ball, and went to third when Henkel threw wildly on a pickoff attempt. That play proved crucial, as Henkel uncorked a wild pitch moments later, bringing home White IV and staking HPU to a 6-4 lead.

VMI took the advantage back in the bottom half, as Sullivan led off with a double and moved to a third on a fly out. Haitsuka followed with an RBI double, and Morley brought home the Keydet catcher with an RBI single, tying the game at 6. Morley then stole second and scored on an RBI single by Justin Topping, putting the Keydets up 7-6. Henkel and Alan Watts combined to blank HPU in the sixth, setting the stage for the offensive explosion in the bottom half.

With VMI up 17-6, HPU tried to mount a rally. Preston Packrall had an RBI infield hit in the seventh, and the Panthers put a five-spot on the board in the eighth, including a home run by Ryan Retz, his second of the weekend. Travis Thomas came on in relief to finish the eighth, and allowed just an infield hit in the ninth and the Keydets earned the win, and moved to 15-8 at home this season.

That 15-8 home record is VMI’s seventh winning season in Lexington in the eight years under current head coach Marlin Ikenberry, as the Keydets are 152-83 at home since the start of the 2004 season. In addition, the team’s 27-23-1 overall mark is the fifth winning season since 2006.

VMI will begin play in the single-elimination portion of the Big South Championship Tuesday. Exact seedings are expected to be announced Saturday night.


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