The Stetson Hatters had plenty of chances to pick up a day one victory over ETSU in the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament, but came up just short in 4-3 loss to the Bucs in 11 innings.
The loss for Stetson (26-30) marked the fifth consecutive season in which the Hatters have lost their opening game in the A-Sun Tournament. ETSU (33-22) evened its all-time tournament mark against Stetson at 2-2.
While the game was decided on a two-out, two-run single by Alex Reynolds in the 11th inning, Stetson coach Pete Dunn said it was multiple mistakes earlier in the game that were the difference in the game.
“You can’t look at the 11th inning and say that game was lost in the 11th,” Dunn said. “In the first inning we had a chance to take the lead right out of the box and got an infield pop up and a strikeout to leave a runner at third. We gave them a run in the fourth inning on an error on a routine play where all you have to do is pick it up and throw to first to end the inning. You can’t do that, especially in tournament play where every game can be determined by every pitch. We were close, and we did some good things but, in the end, we didn’t do enough good things.”
Facing ETSU’s Kerry Doane, the 2013 A-Sun Pitcher of the Year, the Hatters had a chance to put a run on the board early when Kevin Fagan led off the game with a single, moved up to second on a sacrifice bunt and then to third on a balk. That brought Patrick Mazeika, the league’s top hitter and A-Sun Freshman of the year, to the plate with a chance to put the Hatters on the board.
“We work on it all the time that when you come up with a runner at third and less than two outs with the infield playing back, you hit the ball on the ground,” Dunn said. They were giving us the run if we can put the ball in play. Instead we got an infield pop up.”
ETSU made no such mistake in the home half of the first when Jeremy Taylor led off with a single against Stetson’s Austin Perez and then scored on a two-out hit by Kevin Phillips.
Another mistake by the Hatters, this time defensively, cost Stetson another run in the fourth inning. Perez, who allowed nine hits, all singles, over 7.1 innings of work, got a two-out ground ball to second that should have ended the inning, but Fagan misplayed the ball, allowing Mason Hershey to score from third for a 2-0 Bucs lead.
“Perez got better as he went along, and he was able to pitch out of some jams,” Dunn said. “They left 16 runners on base, so they had a lot of opportunities. AP made some big pitches when he needed to, Tyler Warmoth came in and made some big pitches and Cam Griffin came in and made some big pitches. We just shot ourselves in the foot with a walk here, an error there and an infield popup. It is the kind of game where you just beat yourself to death over all the mistakes. We had opportunities to score and to get out of innings, but we didn’t do enough to seal the deal.”
The Hatters were finally able to break through against Doane in the sixth inning when senior James Rasmussen delivered a two-out, two-run double down the line in left. It was the first hit by a right-handed batter for the Hatters against Doane in 15 innings this year.
The game remained tied until the 11th inning, after the Hatters dodged a pair of bullets in the 10th. Griffin (4-4) surrendered four consecutive one-out singles in the 10th, but the Bucs were unable to score because of two throws to the plate to cut down the potential winning run. Kyle Zech, who came on as a pinch hitter in the top of the inning, nailed Reynolds trying to score from second on a hit by Hershey. Fagan followed up by throwing out Chris Riopedre on a ball that deflected off Griffin behind the bag at second base.
ETSU turned to closer Clinton Freeman (6-1) in the 10th inning after Doane, who has 11 complete games, allowed two runs on seven hits over nine innings. In the 11th, sophomore Tanner Blackman delivered a one-out double and then scored from second on a two out single by Rasmussen, who accounted for all three Stetson runs.
“James came up big today with three RBI,” Dunn said. “He is a senior and he wants to keep playing. We all want to keep playing. He did what he had to do today, but it is disappointing because we didn’t do enough. In tournament play, when you have the four and five seeds playing, they are going to be evenly matched. Whatever team plays the best and makes the fewest mistakes will win. They made fewer mistakes than we did today.”
In the bottom of the 11th, Griffin surrendered a leadoff single to Dylan Tritsch and then walked three-hole hitter Andrew Green on four pitches. The junior left-hander regained his composure to strikeout Freeman, but then gave way to senior Joe Dye.
After a double-steal opened up first base, pinch hitter Tyler Roach drew a walk to load the bases. Dye got Derek Niesman to hit a one hopper to the mound to cut down Tritsch at home, before Reynolds jumped on a 1-2 pitch for the game-winning hit.
“You have to give them credit because they battled, even when we got two outs in the 11th,” Dunn said. “We thought we had dodged the bullet, but they came up with the big hit. They were just better than we were. You can’t just do most things good. We shot ourselves in the foot just enough times to cause our demise.”
The Hatters will have to turn around and play in an elimination game on Thursday morning at 10 a.m. against the loser of the game between Mercer and USC Upstate. Dunn said the team will have to put the game one loss behind them.
“They are down right now and there is nothing I can say to make them feel any better, but the sun will come up tomorrow and we have to come back and be ready to play and put this one behind us,” Dunn said. “That is what you have to do in the loser’s bracket. You have to pick yourself up off the canvas and keep battling.”