For the first four games of the 2013 season, Stetson junior Robert Bruce stayed in the dugout and waited for his opportunity.
Over the last eight games, with regular playing time, Bruce is making in increasingly difficult for Stetson (9-7) to take his name out of the lineup.
On Friday night, in a 3-2 victory over Fairfield at Melching Field, Bruce delivered three more hits, scored a run, drove in a run and prevented a run from scoring with laser throw to home to help the Hatters earn their fourth consecutive victory.
“He is maturing, and a lot of it is confidence,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said of Bruce. “He is getting a chance to play regularly now after sitting the bench early in the year and he is taking advantage of it. He has really cut his strikeouts down, that is the big thing. I’d still consider him to be a pull hitter, but he will go to left field, like he did tonight on the base hit to drive in the run.”
Bruce capped a two-run second for the Hatters with his two-out RBI single down the left-field line. The second inning started with a leadoff double by James Rasmussen, who was followed by Garrett Russini with an RBI single.
Fairfield (3-8) got a run back against Stetson starting pitcher Josh Powers (1-2) in the third inning. Rob LoPinto led off the frame with a double and scored on a single by Mike Bennett. It was the only run Powers would allow through six innings of work despite allowing eight hits.
“After we took him out, I told him that even though he didn’t have his best stuff out there, he ground it out,” Dunn said. “That is what good pitchers do. They can certainly win when they have their best stuff, but they have to find a way to win when they don’t have their best stuff.”
Stetson had a chance to pad the lead in the third when the Hatters loaded the bases with no one out, but Fairfield starter Mike Wallace (1-1) got out of the jam with a ground ball back to the mound, a strikeout and a fly ball.
“That has been a problem for us all year,” Dunn said. “We have to keep working at it. We had a chance to distance ourselves and didn’t do it.”
The Hatters did add what turned out to be a big run in the fourth when Bruce reached on a one-out double and scored on a fly ball to left that was misplayed into a two-base error.
Powers overcame a bases loaded jam of his own in the sixth inning after a pair of Stags reached on infield singles and then a walk loaded the bases with no one out. It was Bruce who then turned in the play of the game when he hauled in a fly ball off the bat of Dean Sadik and then unleashed a strike to the plate to cut down Ryan Plourde trying to score.
The Hatters went to the pen in relief of Powers in the seventh inning and immediately got into trouble. Redshirt freshman Tyler Warmoth allowed three walks and an infield single to plate a run and load the bases.
“We battled through some adversity, but that adversity was self-inflicted,” Dunn said. “We went out there and walked three in one inning. Joe Dye went out there in relief of Warmoth and got the one guy he faced and then Cameron Griffin came in to get the lefty. They did what they had to do and we wiggled our way out of it.”
Freshman Kevin Fagan pitched the final two innings for Stetson, allowing just one infield hit, to record his first save.
Bruce finished with three of the Hatters’ seven hits in the game while Anthony Jajjar, Jack Giannini and Sadik had two hits each for the Stags.
The Hatters will come back on Saturday with a day-night double-header against Fairfield looking to add to their modest four-game win streak.
The day will include a pair of special events. Prior to the opening game at 1 p.m., Stetson will honor the 2007 Hatters team with Atlantic Sun Conference championship rings. The group won the regular season A-Sun title, but did not get rings at the time because of an athletics department policy that mandated only conference tournament championship teams were to receive rings.
“It has been a long time in coming but, unfortunately, we aren’t going to have the majority of the team back,” Dunn said. “It is a great tribute to an awfully good team. We won the regular season in strong fashion and received an at large bid to the NCAA Tournament. Since then, the policy has been changed and these guys are going to get what they so richly deserve.”
The nightcap game, scheduled for a 7 p.m. start, will be the Hatters’ first “Pink Game” for breast cancer awareness. Fans who come to the game wearing pink will receive a $5 general admission ticket and the team will wear special caps with pink lettering.
“We have guys on this team who have had family members fight and beat cancer, and I think that everyone knows someone somewhere who has dealt with cancer,” Dunn said. “We want to do our part to make people more aware of the fight against that disease. This is the first Pink Game we will play and I hope that we can do it on an annual basis.”