PEMBROKE — There’s a razor-thin margin of error for The University of North Carolina at Pembroke baseball team going into its final weekend series starting today against Peach Belt Conference-leading Columbus State if it wants to qualify for postseason play.
Sitting on the outside looking in for the PBC tournament, the Braves will need to sweep the series, on the road against Columbus State — who has won 12 conference games in a row — on its senior weekend.
That certainly is a tall task for a UNCP team that is closing out the season with a young team that has faced growing pains in recent weeks. The Braves can look at this weekend like Lloyd Christmas’, played by Jim Carey in the movie “Dumb and Dumber,” recognizable quote of: “So you’re telling me there’s a chance.”
It’s a long shot, but there’s still a chance for the Braves depending on the level of play they show this weekend.
A sweep is the only way the Braves could make the tournament with a four-team tussle currently for the final two spots with Flagler, Francis Marion and North Georgia. Flagler and Francis Marion play against each other this weekend and are tied for 7th with a PBC record at 13-14, North Georgia is playing nonconference this weekend and is done with conference play at 14-16, UNCP sits behind those teams at 12-15. The Braves own the tiebreaker with Flagler, while FMU and North Georgia own it over UNCP.
Even with the uphill climb ahead of them, UNCP coach Paul O’Neil says there’s no need for his team to feel pressure in this situation.
“There should not be a lick of pressure on us next week,” O’Neil said following his team’s 18-7 loss to Augusta on Sunday. “We can go in and play loosey-goosey.
“If there is pressure on us, it is self-induced pressure.”
No pressure may be on the team, but a drive to go out and hang tight with the No. 7 team in the nation should be there for UNCP. O’Neil believes the Cougars will have a chip on their shoulder after the Braves defeated the Cougars four times last season to further add fuel to the fire that Columbus State is playing with right now.
“Well, we’ve got to play well if we want to have a chance against them,” he said. “They’re a real good team, they’re playing at home, they’re a nationally-ranked team; we better buckle our chinstrap or we’re going to get steamboated.
“It will be a good experience for our young kids. It will open up their eyes a little bit because they’re going to see a really good Peach Belt team that can swing the bat well and do a lot of things.”
Playing like they did in the first two games of this past weekend’s PBC series at home against Augusta is the way the Braves should try to emulate for the whole series against a high-caliber opponent like Columbus State, while trying to avoid the lack of execution it had in the letdown in Game 3 of the series. Before facing Augusta, UNCP had lost 10 of its last 11 games to start the month of April, but the change on senior weekend started on the mound.
“(Saturday) we played good. I thought we pitched really well and with his game you’ve got to pitch,” O’Neil said. “If you pitch well, it gives you a chance to win, just like (Sunday). Their guy threw a really good baseball game.”
What Jesse Stinnett, Trace Hagler and the rest of the staff picked up over the weekend is momentum that O’Neil hopes will carry over into the crucial series in regards to the Braves’ postseason chances.
“I hope the guys that pitched well feel good about themselves,” he said. “They should. They pitched well (Saturday) so hopefully that can carry over to next week with a good hard week of practice and will be ready to go.”
The two wins over Augusta were the first wins for UNCP over any of the top four teams in the Peach Belt Conference and should give the Braves a feel of what they need to do come this weekend to give themselves a chance on the road.
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.