After spotting visiting Jacksonville a big early lead, Stetson battled back on Thursday night to tie the game late, only to let the Dolphins pull away late for a 9-6 series opening win at Melching Field.
The loss snapped Stetson’s three-game win streak and was the Hatters’ third consecutive loss in Atlantic Sun Conference openers. The Hatters (19-10, 3-4) have surrendered 39 runs in those three series opening losses.
“We have to find a way to win the first game of a series,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “We have given up almost 40 runs in three series openers – that is just unheard of. You can’t chase runs.”
Jacksonville came into the game having lost five straight games, but improved to 12-19 overall and 2-5 in conference play with the win.
Stetson junior starting pitcher Kurt Schluter is a perfect example of the Hatters’ series opening woes. The defending A-Sun pitcher of the year has been the starting pitcher in each of the three A-Sun openers, and has allowed 23 runs on 29 hits over 12 innings of work. He has been undone by the home run ball, allowing seven in those three appearances after having allowed just four in the first 31 appearances in his career.
“I don’t see the intensity level,” Dunn said of Schluter. “That Friday night guy needs to go out there with some intensity and set the tone for the weekend. I wish I knew what was wrong. Coach (Chris) Roberts is going crazy trying to figure it out. Kurt has to fix it. There is nothing wrong with him physically. He needs to reach down inside and figure out what it is he need to do to go out there and compete and give us a quality start.”
Schluter was victimized by the home run ball again on Thursday. He surrendered a two-runs homer to A-Sun preseason player of the year Adam Brett Walker in the first inning, and then gave up a solo bomb to Walker in the third. Schluter also allowed a run on a pair of hits in the second inning, putting the Hatters in an early 5-1 hole.
Stetson got single runs in the second and third innings, but missed out on what could have been more productive frames against JU starter Drew Woods. Ryan Lashley drove in a run with a ground out in the second before Kyle Zech hit into an inning-ending double play.
In the third inning, Mark Jones came up with the bases loaded and one out, but only managed a ground ball to plate one run.
Stetson did knot the score at 5-5 in the fifth, scoring three times, but again leaving two runners in scoring position. Robert Crews doubled in the first run of the inning and Jones and Lashley both delivered run-scoring singles, but were left on base at the end of the frame.
“We did come back, and had chances to almost blow the game open, but we get pop ups and punch outs,” Dunn said. “When we need to swing the bat, we don’t. We take two steps forward and one step back.”
With the game still tied in the eighth, the Dolphins regained the lead on a bloop double to center field off Tucker Donahue (2-1) that escaped the grasp of a sliding Kyle Zech with two out in the inning.
“We have to make that play in the outfield,” Dunn said. “If you get to the ball, you have to make the catch. It was a tie game and we had a chance to get out of the inning, but we didn’t make the play and they took the lead.”
JU then put the game out of reach in the ninth inning, scoring three times off Jake Boyd. Dan Gulbransen opened the inning with a home run and, after a single by Walker, a walk and a sacrifice put two runners in scoring position, Alex McRae delivered a two-run single.
Sophomore left-hander Jimmy Appleby (2-0) was the third of five pitchers for Jacksonville and earned the win. Sophomore Chris Anderson recorded the final four outs for the Dolphins, allowing one run, to earn his first save.
The loss in the series opener puts the pressure on the Hatters, especially senior starting pitchers Lindsey Caughel and Will Dorsey, for the rest of the series. Caughel will get the ball on Friday night as Stetson looks to even the weekend series. The game is scheduled for a 6:30 p.m. start.
“We have to find guys who will come up big in the big situations,” Dunn said. “Right now, we aren’t doing that.
They have to learn how to compete and we have some guys who aren’t competitive right now. We can’t continue to go out and lose on Friday night and expect to be in the hunt for a tournament berth. Good teams win the first night and, right now, we are not a good team and that is why we are not winning.”