Kennesaw, Ga. – When a sinking liner off the bat of Kennesaw State’s Jacob Bruce fell harmlessly into the glove of Stetson center fielder Spencer Theisen on Sunday afternoon, there was an almost audible sigh of relief from the Hatters’ dugout.
After losing the first two games of the weekend to the Owls, Stetson scored four times in the top of the ninth to take a 9-3 lead to the bottom of the inning, needing three outs to escape with a victory. The Owls, however, refused to go quietly, scoring four runs in the ninth off Stetson closer Robbie Powell before he finally recorded the final out in a 9-7 Hatters victory.
The win keeps the Hatters at .500 in Atlantic Sun Conference play with a 6-6 record. Stetson improved to 23-12 overall. Kennesaw State slips to 22-16 overall and 10-5 in league play. The Owls could be in a three-way tie for the A-Sun lead, joining USC Upstate and Belmont, who visits Kennesaw next week, depending on the Bruins’ game on Sunday at Mercer.
On Saturday night, Stetson seniors Will Dorsey and Lindsey Caughel visited Turner Field to see the Braves-Brewers game and to try to forget the first two games of the Hatters’ weekend series.
What they saw was a pitchers dual in Atlanta and Dorsey did his best to replicate that performance on Sunday, holding the hot-hitting Owls to three runs on six hits over 6.2 innings of work.
“He has done such a great job for us the last four weeks,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said of Dorsey. “We have had our backs to the wall every weekend. Twice we have gone into the last day 0-2 and in danger of getting swept and Dorsey has gone out there and given us four really strong conference performances.”
Dorsey (4-2) only surrendered four hard-hit balls during his time on the mound, and all four led to runs. Aaron Dobbs opened the game with a solo homer on Dorsey’s second pitch. The Owls added a run in the third when Dobbs, who had doubled, scored on a single by Peyton Hart. Andy Almonte then hit a solo homer to lead off the fourth, giving KSU a 3-0 lead.
“Today was a lot like last week against JU,” Dorsey said. “I gave up a couple early, but then settled down and just tried to let our offense work. They hit some balls hard, but the guys made great plays behind me. That team can really hit the ball and if you make a mistake they will make you pay for it.”
The Hatters drew even in the fifth inning, scoring three quick runs off Kennesaw State starter Kevin Kyle. Robert Crews, who had four hits in the game for Stetson, opened the inning with a bloop triple down the right field line. Ben Carhart followed with a tape-measure homer over the roof of the KSU athletics facility in left.
Mark Jones followed the Carhart homer with a double and came in to score on a ground ball from Ryan Lashley.
Stetson gave Dorsey the lead with a pair of runs in the seventh. Carhart drew a walk from reliever Kevin McCoy (0-3) to start the inning. Kurt Schluter delivered a one-out single and then both scored on a double by Sam Kimmel.
“We had talked about sitting him (Kimmel) today because he had scuffled against the left-hander earlier in the season, but he brings so much to the table,” Dunn said. “I am glad we gave him a chance today.”
Kimmel, who started in left field, also had four hits in the game for the Hatters.
Stetson appeared to blow the game open in the ninth, scoring four times. James Rasmussen had a two-run single and was followed by Theisen and Crews with run scoring hits.
Kennesaw refused to go away quietly in the ninth. After Robbie Powell struck out the first batter he faced, he surrendered a single by Almonte, a double to Ronnie Freeman and an RBI single to Will Howard. Andy Chriscaden followed with a three-run homer over the building in left.
After allowing another double to bring the tying run to the plate, Powell got a strikeout before Bruce lined out to Theisen.
“That is a good ball club,” Dunn said. “Dobbs has my vote right now for conference player of the year. He can do everything. I had heard that they are good. They swing the bats, play good defense and pitch well. It will be interesting to see what happens between them and Belmont next weekend.”
For the Hatters, the race at the top of the league standings are of little consequence right now. Stetson has to focus on taking care of business one game at a time.
“We can’t scoreboard watch now,” Dunn said. “We are in a position where we have to take care of our own business. Our backs are against the wall and we have to keep finding ways to grind out wins.”
The road will not get easier for the Hatters, who will travel to Miami on Wednesday to take on the Hurricanes, a top 10 team.
“It is not coming easy for us,” Dunn said. “We have to go down to Miami, and playing on Wednesday is not ideal because whoever you pitch probably would not be available for the weekend. Miami is always big because that is a good recruiting area for us and we haven’t played down there in a while.”
The Hatters also don’t know how long they will be without the services of Schluter on the mound. He is battling tendinitis, but found other ways to help at Kennesaw State.
“We don’t know about Schluter right now, but he did a heck of a job for us at first base and at the plate,” Dunn said. “He got a couple of bunts down and I think he gave us a good pick-me-up for him to come and help us with the bat and at first base.”
The Hatters will face Miami at 6 p.m. on Wednesday before hosting Lipscomb at Melching Field for a three-game series next weekend.