For much of the evening on Saturday, it looked as if Stetson’s fortunes on series opening games would continue as they have for most of the season in series opening games.
But the Hatters turned things around, using the force of a six-run eighth inning to defeat North Florida 9-4 in the weather-delayed series opener. It was the first series opening victory for Stetson in Atlantic Sun Conference play, and the first overall for the Hatters since topping Fairfield on March 15.
After Friday’s originally scheduled series opener was postponed by rain, the Hatters and Ospreys had to wait an extra hour and 45 minutes before starting on Saturday due to lightning.
Stetson improved to 22-23 overall and, more importantly, 11-8 in A-Sun play with the victory. UNF, which came into the game with a half-game lead over Mercer in the conference standings, falls to 33-13 overall and 14-5 in league play.
Even with the victory, Stetson’s sophomore starting pitcher Josh Powers continues his season-long run of bad luck. Despite allowing just four hits to the second best hitting team in the nation, Powers was not involved in the decision on Saturday night because poor defense play behind him allowed the Ospreys to score four unearned runs.
In fact, without the Hatters’ big eighth inning, Powers would have been saddled with his seventh loss of the year.
“Josh is just a tough luck guy,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “I am sure it bothers him, but he just doesn’t show it. He keeps grinding out there. He just has to keep going out there and pitching like he has been and, hopefully, it will turn around for him down the stretch and in the post-season. To only allow four hits against the No. 2 hitting team in the country, that is pretty good pitching.”
While Powers was keeping the Ospreys at bay, the Hatters were missing out on repeated scoring chances. The missed opportunities started in the very first inning when Stetson loaded the bases against UNF starting pitcher Tommy Organ, but managed to score just one run. That came after a pair of errors in the first opened the door for UNF to take a 3-0 lead.
“We got two quick outs in the first and then the next thing you know we were down 3-0,” Dunn said. “Then we came back with no outs and had the bases loaded, but we scored our only run by hitting the ball 15 feet in front of the plate. They came off the field all energized.”
But the Hatters drew even in the third inning when freshman Patrick Mazeika pulled a line shot down the line and right for a two-run game-tying homer. It was Mazeika’s second home run of the year, and just the sixth all season for Stetson.
The game stayed tied at 3-3 until the eighth when UNF took advantage of two more Stetson errors to push across a single run and chase Powers. Cameron Griffin (3-3) came on to get the Hatters out of the inning with no further damage, and then sat back in the dugout to watch the Stetson bats come to life.
UNF reliever David Trexler (3-3) had held the Hatters to just two singles through two and a third innings of work, but got a pair of double plays to avoid trouble. That trouble finally caught up to him in the eighth. The Hatters banged out seven hits in the inning, all singles, with the first three coming off Trexler that, combined with a walk, led to four runs.
Corbin Olmstead came out of the UNF bullpen and allowed four more hits, resulting in two more runs, before finally getting out of the inning.
“I was proud to see the way we came back in the eighth inning to put that six spot up there, but we have to pick the ball up and throw it better than we did tonight,” Dunn said. “You can’t play defense like we did tonight and expect to be successful from here on out and in the post season.”
Even with the seven hits in the eighth, Dunn said it was a walk that was the key to the inning.
“Robert Bruce had a great at bat,” Dunn said. “We had a couple of runners on and he fouled off a bunch of pitches before getting a walk and that was a big at bat. The difference in the six-run eighth from early in the game is we went up there and were aggressive from the first pitch on.”
The big hits in the eighth for the Hatters included an RBI single by Garrett Russini to tie the game, a bloop single by Mitchel Brennan to give Stetson the lead, and a two-run single by Konner Lutz to provide some cushion.
“As bad as we played defensively, and as bad a we were at the plate early, the way we played down the stretch says a lot about this team and I hope we learned from it,” Dunn said.
Overall, the Hatters banged out 14 hits against an Ospreys pitching staff that leads the A-Sun in ERA. Kevin Fagan led the way with three hits while Darby McCormick, James Rasmussen, Russini and Tyler Bocock had two each.
Getting a win in the first game of a conference series also gives the Hatters a much better chance to win the series.
“It wasn’t a Friday night, but it was the first one of the conference schedule,” Dunn said. “We just have to keep winning. There is not much chance for us to move up two or three spots, but stranger things have happened.
“The bottom line is you have to keep winning and see what happens. I just want to see us get some momentum. If we are playing well, that is what you want to take into the tournament.”
The Hatters and Ospreys will play a double-header on Sunday with the first game scheduled for a 1 p.m. start.