Barna, Eagles advance to NAIA regionals
After catching four games in four days and seeing a season’s worth of sacrifice and hard work pay off, Chris Barna was content to spend a lazy day at home in Jackson, Tenn.
Earlier in the weekend, the Lambuth University junior catcher helped the Eagles qualify for this week’s regional baseball tournament by finishing runner-up to Cumberland in the Mid-South Conference Tournament.
“I felt a combination of anger and exhaustion from the weekend because we played Wednesday through Sunday and that’s a lot of innings to catch,” said Barna, a South Tahoe High grad. “I was pretty sure we’d win the tournament, but our pitching wasn’t too great (Saturday). We left the ball up in the zone and they hit the baseball.”
Cumberland denied Lambuth the tournament championship with a 13-7 victory Saturday. Lambuth, 42-22, had beaten Cumberland 6-5 on Friday to advance to the title game.
“Unfortunately, the conference is winner-take-all. But we did qualify for regionals,” Barna said.
Cumberland, which won the regular-season title as well, snapped a 5-5 tie with a four-run seventh inning.
“Our pitcher did well for the first six innings, but he ran out of gas in the seventh,” Barna said.
Cumberland’s Phichi Balet, a transfer from Florida State, set an NAIA record by roping five doubles.
“It was almost to the point of why don’t we intentionally walk him,” Barna said. “You can never throw the same pitch in the same at-bat to him. You have to go in and then go out and change speeds or he’ll crush it.”
Barna received little to hit, walking three times and taking a bean ball in the middle of the back.
Lambuth, however, did get the better of Balet and Cumberland on Friday. However, the Eagles nearly blew a 6-1 lead in the ninth inning.
“We got the first two outs in the ninth and then ran the next count to 0-2, but this guy kept fouling off the ball and our pitcher lit a fire under them. He kept running his mouth,” said Barna of the impetus for Cumberland’s four-run rally. “They were down and they were ready to give up, and he just gave them a reason to come back.”
Barna was 1 for 2 with a double and two walks.
Lambuth extended their season with a 4-3 11-inning victory over No. 2-seeded Union on Thursday. Barna contributed two hits, picked off a runner from first base and threw out a guy trying to steal second.
Mike Marsden singled in the winning run in the bottom of the 11th.
“It was great that we won in the bottom of the 11th. That win sealed a berth in regionals and we dogpiled on top of the plate,” Barna said.
The Eagles leave for Birmingham, Ala., the site of the six-team regionals, on Tuesday. They open the double-elimination tournament against Union University on Wednesday.
‘We really like our chances,” Barna said. “We feel there is no reason that we can’t go on and win this thing.”
If the Eagles win their opener, they’ll likely face the nation’s second-ranked team in Birmingham Southern.
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