Somber faces stared into open spaces as shadows fell upon Jaguar Field late Saturday afternoon.
In Augusta State's dugout, players wondered if the sun had set on their season after a regular-season doubleheader loss to No. 5 North Florida. The Ospreys threw a monkey wrench into Augusta State's plans of claiming a share of their first-ever Peach Belt Conference title with a 9-7 win. Then they escaped with a 3-1 extra-inning victory in the second game, making the Jaguars wonder if they will play again in a milestone season.
"Keep your heads up," Augusta State coach Skip Fite said to his team following the sweep. "Whether we get in or not, we've still had a hell of a season."
Augusta State (38-16, 19-11) set a school record for wins and appeared ready to add two more.
Instead, North Florida (38-15, 23-7) rallied for four runs in the eighth inning to come back and take the first game and win its fifth conference crown. The Ospreys, the South Atlantic Region's No. 1 seed, are expected to hold the regional, and Augusta State hopes to make the trip to Jacksonville, Fla.
The Jaguars will find out next week whether they earned their first Division II Tournament appearance in Fite's two decades as coach.
"I felt like we needed to win two games (in the series) to get into the regional," said Fite, whose team opened the three-game series with a victory. "But we're playing the No. 1 team in the region and we take them to the tilt three games and beat them once. Hopefully, the committee will look at it from that standpoint."
In the first game, Augusta State trailed 5-1 but rallied in the fifth inning. Garrick McGrath slapped an RBI single, while Dustin Taylor scored another run on an infield grounder. With two outs, Brandon Sumlin chopped a single through the right side to pull the Jaguars within one.
Kevin Kelley then launched a double off the right-field fence, giving the Jaguars a 6-5 lead.
Junior right-hander David Riviera saw his first action since injuring his shoulder pitching against Kennesaw State in late March. Riviera, on a 70-pitch count, entered the game with two outs in the second and held Osprey batters at bay, scattering five hits and allowing no runs in 5Q innings.
With Riviera out of the game, William Kovatch smacked a one-out triple in the eighth, and Fite sent closer Cody Williams, who saved Friday's game, into the contest. North Florida got the better of the freshman right-hander this time.
Josh Howard tied the game with an RBI double inside the left-field line. Ryan Knight followed with a sharp single up the middle, giving the Ospreys the lead back. Then, with two outs, pinch hitter Sadry Cafe blasted a two-run double to left field. North Florida led 9-6.
Augusta State tried to make a two-out rally in the bottom of the ninth. After Sumlin hit a home run, Kelley followed by nearly decapitating reliever Billy Layman with a liner up the middle. Lee Rose singled to bring the winning run to the plate in catcher Sam Barth.
The junior, who entered the game as the league's top hitter, extended his hitting streak to 32 games with singles in both games. But with two on and two out in the bottom of the ninth, Barth became Layman's seventh strikeout victim in 4Q innings of relief.
In the second game, North Florida scored two in the eighth for the victory.
"We just fought all day," Sumlin said. "We had good pitching efforts in both games. Unfortunately, that's just the way it turned out."
Reach Chris Gay at (706) 823-3645 or firstname.lastname@example.org.