The Stetson Hatters found something that has been missing on Friday night at Melching Field – a quality performance by a starting pitcher.
Welcome back Kurt Schluter.
The junior, who came into the season as the Atlantic Sun Conference Preseason Pitcher of the Year, turned in a gem of a performance in the first game of the Hatters’ weekend series against Lipscomb in a 7-2 Stetson victory.
“He hasn’t been totally healthy all year but he is such a bulldog that he wanted to battle through it,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said of Schluter. “We got to the point where we just had to give him some time off. I am just glad that we only had to give him a week off. He came back with a vengeance today and pitched like the Kurt Schluter that we have all come to know and love.”
The Hatters improved to 24-13 overall and 7-6 in A-Sun play with their first Friday victory in league play. Lipscomb fell to 17-21 overall and 9-7 in conference play.
Schluter (5-2) came back to turn in the first complete game performance of his career, scattering eight hits while walking two and striking out eight. Schluter said the week off from pitching, combined with a chance to play some games in the field, made a huge difference.
“I think the week off with some rest really helped,” Schluter said. “I was sore after the last couple of starts, but I wanted to go out tonight and do what I could to help the team win. It is good to get a Friday win. When you are struggling, you have to be able to take your mind off of it. I think playing in the field really helped me get my mind back in place for the mound.”
Even though Schluter was dominant for most of the evening, he did have one inning where he had to work hard.
Stetson had run itself out of scoring chances in both of the first two innings, and Lipscomb responded in the third, scoring a pair of runs on three hits. M.L. Williams singled and stole second to open the inning. After a lineout to first, Zach Lowery doubled to center to plate Williams and then scored on a single by Ricky Coleman.
Schluter shook off the runs and got a pair of ground balls to get out of the frame without further damage. Lipscomg managed just three hits the rest of the night.
“The past couple of starts I really had trouble in the first few innings, but I was able to get through that tonight and my teammates really picked me up with some good plays behind me. I knew they would come through and score some runs.”
Dunn said that not getting on the board with two early chances against Bison starter Connor Sinclair (5-2) was “disturbing”.
“We had a chance to put some early runs on the board in back-to-back innings, and ran ourselves out of both chances,” Dunn said. “That gave them some life and came in and got two. Kurt just held them right there the rest of the night.”
The Hatters did finally get on the scoreboard in the fourth inning, scoring an unearned run when Mark Jones reached on an error and then scored on a double by Mitchel Brennan, his second of the night.
Stetson then put up five runs in the fifth thanks to another Lipscomb error, four hits, two walks and a hit batter. Three of the runs scored with the bases loaded when Robert Crews was hit by a pitch, Sam Kimmel singled on a roller up the middle, and Ben Carhart drew a walk. After a pitching change and a fielders’ choice, Brennan delivered again, producing a two-run single.
Brennan reached base all four times he came to the plate and drove in three runs, which was big for him, because it was his base-running mistake in the second inning that cost the Hatters. He tried to reach third on a ball hit to the gap, but never looked up to see Mark Jones being held there. By the time he noticed Jones on the bag, he was almost to the base himself.
“It was a good thing he had a good night,” Dunn joked. “After that base-running mistake, running with his head down, it is good thing he put together a good offensive night. We preach that you never run with your head down. He was anticipating that Mark was going to score and Coach (Mark) Leavitt is not going to send him with no outs and get him thrown out. He just put his head down and went and that can’t happen.”
The Hatters plated their final run in the eighth inning when Jones walked, stole second, went to third on a wild pitch and scored on a sacrifice fly by Ryan Lashley.
“It was a good win,” Dunn said. “It has been about five weeks since we were able to get a Friday win. This is our first in conference, and that is what you have to do to be able to win a series. Our guys took advantage of their mistakes and, even thought it wasn’t a perfect performance, it was a good win.”
And for Schluter, the relief on his face after three consecutive sub-par performances was evident. He was also quickly looking ahead to Saturday’s game.
“Right now I feel pretty good,” Schluter said. “If I need to go out and play first tomorrow, hopefully I will be able to do that. We really need to get these next two wins and then get ready for next week.”
The second game of the weekend series is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start at Melching Field.