The Stetson Hatters missed out on an early scoring chance on Saturday against Kennesaw State, leaving a pair of runners on base in the first inning.
Kennesaw State’s Kevin Kyle (5-2) never gave Stetson another chance, blanking the Hatters on just four hits in a 4-0 Owls victory. Besides the four singles the Hatters produced in the game, all of which were through, or just over the infield, Stetson hit one ball out of the infield all day.
Kennesaw State improved to 17-11 overall with the win, 6-3 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. The Hatters fall to 13-15 overall and 2-4 in league play.
Kyle struck out just three and needed only 104 pitches to get the win. He got 18 ground ball outs in the game and faced just two batters over the minimum.
“You are an idiot if you don’t pitch to contact on that team,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “That is the best defensive infield that I can remember seeing in a long time. I am not just talking about the A-Sun, I mean anywhere. Those guys really make a lot of plays.”
The Hatters had their one and only scoring chance in the first with runners on the corners and one out. Kyle put the scoring chance down by getting James Rasmussen to foul out to third base and Carlos Garmendia on a ground ball to short. It was one of 11 assists on the day for KSU shortstop Kal Simmons.
“We had an opportunity to score one in the first, to score first,” Dunn said. “That is always a lift, even though it doesn’t necessarily mean anything. We got first and third with one out and couldn’t make quality contact, and that is disappointing.
“Then we went out and gave up those three unearned runs. You aren’t supposed to make those kind of errors on routine plays at this point in the season.”
It was two errors in the second inning that cost both the Hatters and freshman starting pitcher Kevin Fagan (2-1). The trouble started when first baseman Patrick Mazeika dropped a good throw from short on a grounder by Max Pentecost. Consecutive singles by Jacob Bruce and Ryan Raper plated that run.
After a pop out to the catcher, the Owls tried to squeeze home a run, but Fagan got the ball to Garrett Russini in plenty of time to cut down the runner. Simmons followed with an RBI single to plate Raper and then another run scored on a Bo Way single to center that was overrun by Mike Fernland.
“I realize that we didn’t score, but we are not capable of chasing runs at this point,” Dunn said. “If we play good defense today, then we are in a one-run game the whole way and you do things a lot differently in a one-run game than in a three-run game.”
After stranding the two runners on base in the first inning, Kyle faced the minimum over the next eight frames. Even though he did allow two hits – one in the fifth to Russini and another in the eighth to Tanner Blackman – he erased both runners by getting double-plays.
“He was down in the zone all day and stayed away from the right-handed hitters,” Dunn said of Kyle. “We didn’t hit the ball to the right side, and that is what you have to do against a left-handed pitcher like that. You have to take a left-handed approach and hit it the other way. Instead, we kept rolling over and hitting weak grounders to the shortstop. We just didn’t take a good approach.”
The lack of offensive production, and error-filled second inning, spoiled an otherwise strong pitching performance from Fagan and senior Cameron Griffin. The duo scattered eight hits and allowed just one earned run, which scored on a two-out double by Almonte in the eighth inning.
“Those guys did everything you could expect,” Dunn said of his pitchers. “They gave up one earned run. You don’t always win those games, but you would certainly be closer than in a 4-0 shutout.”
The Hatters will now take their show on the road for the better part of the next month. After playing 26 of their first 28 games at home, the Hatters will play 13 of their next 17 games away from Melching Field.
“It is a good question,” Dunn said of playing on the road. “How do these youngsters react to playing on the road and having a chance in the routine they have had all year? We’ve showed signs of being a good team, but we just haven’t bee consistent.”
The April road games will commence on Tuesday when the Hatters travel to Tampa for a 7 p.m. game at the University of South Florida. Stetson will play its first road conference series of the year next weekend at Jacksonville.