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Despite emotional walk-off homer, Birmingham-Southern’s run ends in national quarterfinals

On the same weekend their 168-year-old university closed its doors, the Birmingham-Southern College baseball team experienced a roller coaster of emotions, ending in a heartbreaking 11-10 elimination at the hands of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

The Panthers, whose storybook run to the Division III College World Series has captured the nation’s heart, lost their Friday CWS opener to Salve Regina, a university of 3,000 students located in Newport, Rhode Island. That set up a Saturday elimination game against Randolph-Macon, a liberal arts college in Ashland, Virginia.

BSC built an early 4-0 advantage, but seven unanswered Randolph-Macon runs gave the Panthers some work to do. Base hits from outfielders Jakob Zito and Grant Morgan tied the game in the 8th, leaving junior Jackson Webster to bat in the bottom of the 9th.

“Do your job, Jackson!” Webster’s father, a play-by-play announcer at Panthers home games, shouted from the stands as the first baseman approached the batter’s box.

And what a job he did. Down to his final strike, Webster blasted a two-run walkoff home run over the left field fence, clinching a 9-7 BSC victory and sending the Panther dugout into a state of euphoria.

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“AMERICA’S TEAM LIVES ON,” posted the BSC athletic department.

“Are you kidding? Are you kidding? Do you believe?” the play-by-play announcer shouted as the camera panned towards a frenzied group of Birmingham-Southern supporters. BSC players spilled out of the dugout to mob Webster as he crossed home plate, the team’s spot in the national quarterfinals secured.

BSC wouldn’t have much time to rest on their laurels. Wisconsin-Whitewater, the World Series’ #5 seed, lay ahead of the Panthers in a Sunday matinee. The stakes were as high as they could be: the winner would move on and the loser would go home.

Three second-inning runs staked UWW to an early lead, but the Panthers, no stranger to a comeback story, responded in turn. Two home runs, including Webster’s third of the weekend, quickly tied the game.

The rest of the contest was a back-and-forth affair, with Birmingham-Southern jumping out to a 5-3 lead by the end of the 4th. A UWW home run evened the score in the home frame, but Webster would quickly record two more RBIs, staking his Panthers to a 10-5 advantage entering the 7th.

Wisconsin-Whitewater refused to go quietly, clawing back with an RBI double and a two-run homer that tied the game going into the final inning. In the bottom of the 9th, UWW’s Sam Paden deposited the first pitch he saw over the left field fence to give the Warhawks an 11-10 victory.

In the game’s aftermath, BSC players and alumni took the third-base line to salute the supporters that made the long trip from Birmingham to Cleveland. AL.com’s Joe Goodman, who traveled with the Panthers, reported that an “impressive and heroically rowdy contingent of Birmingham-Southern fans” made the 11-hour drive to Northeast Ohio.

The team walked off the field for the final time, hand-in-hand, at around 8:00 PM Eastern Time.

“What a beautiful place [Birmingham-Southern] is… was,” Panthers head coach Jan Weisberg, who has led the program since 2006, told the Associated Press before breaking down in tears.

“What this nation has seen over these last three weeks and the joy that we brought is exactly what this program is — it’s toughness, it’s championship baseball, great young men,” Weisberg added. “The final chapter for Birmingham-Southern could have gone off into the sunset and not many people besides graduates or the Birmingham community would know about it.”

“But now the nation knows there were some pretty special things that happened here.”

Charles Vaughan is a contributing writer for Yellowhammer News. 

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