When Stetson coach Pete Dunn went to the mound in the eighth inning to make a pitching change on Friday, he carried a message with him a message to his reliever.
The Hatters were clinging to a 2-0 lead over Kennesaw State, but starting pitcher Austin Perez (3-1) had allowed three consecutive one-out singles to load the bases and put that lead in series jeopardy.
Dunn called on redshirt freshman Tyler Warmoth from the bullpen and had a simple message.
“Coach Dunn came out there and said, ‘Straight from the Big Dog,’ which is Coach (Chris) Roberts, ‘trust your fastball,’” Warmoth said. “I started him with a curveball and then came back with a fastball away. He hit it hard, but right at (Kevin) Fagan.”
Fagan was able to turn the sharp grounder into an inning-ending double play to preserve the lead. The Hatters followed up with three runs in the bottom of the eighth and went on to take a 5-0 victory over the Owls to even the weekend series and one game each.
The series finale is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m.
The double-play ground was just what the doctor ordered for Perez, who had endured a difficult week away from his teammates following the tragic death of an uncle.
“He has gone through a lot of stuff this week,” Dunn said. “His uncle was killed in a tragic accident last weekend. He was down with his family for the service this week. He showed up ready to play and ready to pitch and he gave us a great start.”
Perez, who scattered eight hits over his 7.1 innings of work, said seeing Warmoth get that ground ball put a major spring in his step.
“I could have dunked,” the five-foot, 11-inch tall lefty said. “That was huge for us. Fagan made a good play on it because it looked like it took a bad hop, but he was still able to handle it.”
Perez has dealt with some control issues in earlier outings this year, but allowed just two walks on Friday.
“I knew I had to come out and flood the strike sone and let the guys make plays for me,” Perez said. “The first half of the game it seemed like I had to make all of my pitches with someone standing on third base. Once I got into my rhythm I just went. If I ever did get off track, the other dugout always made me mad and got me back.”
The junior worked his way out of trouble in the second, third and fourth innings, with Kennesaw State (16-11, 5-3 in the Atlantic Sun) putting at least two runners on base in each inning. The first two times he got out of trouble by inducing ground balls, the third time he put down the trouble with one of his three strikeouts.
While Perez was busy keeping the Owls off the scoreboard, the Stetson lineup was trying to find a way to break through against the Kennesaw State pitching staff. The Hatters (13-14, 2-3), who were shutout on Thursday night, finally broke through in the third inning, scoring a run without getting a hit.
“We have to learn to do that until we start swinging the bat better than we are right now,” Dunn said. “We have to be able to find ways to win when you aren’t hitting on all cylinders. We certainly pitched well enough and we played good defense, but we only had four hits. We were able to make the most of them.”
Tyler Bocock drove in each of Stetson’s first two runs in the game. He plate Mike Fernland in the third on a ground out to short, and then drove in Fagan in the fifth with a double into the leftfield corner.
Those two runs cost KSU starting pitcher Travis Dean (3-4), who allowed the two runs on three hits, but also walked four batters.
Stetson added three insurance runs in the eighth inning after Warmoth’s big pitch ended the Owls’ scoring threat in the top of the frame. KSU reliever Jacob Moore loaded the bases by hitting a batter and walking two, one intentionally. The Owls brought in Alan Buesnitz to pitch to freshman Carlos Garmendia who, after a wild pitch plated a run, delivered a two-run single up the middle.
“Garmendia really squared the ball up to drive in those two extra runs in the eighth inning,” Dunn said. “I won’t say that sealed it, but it certainly gave us some breathing room. We were able to let Warmoth go back out, even though we had Fagan ready to go.”
Warmoth was able to close out the Owls in the ninth to pick up his first save.
“I am real proud of them,” Dunn said. “We didn’t wear it out at the plate, but I thought our guys did a great job. I am extremely impressed with the pitching staff on that other side. They really have some quality arms, but we did everything we needed to do. We pitched well, we played good defense, we were able to get a key double play when we needed it and we got a key base hit when we needed it.”
The four hits in the game for Stetson were scattered among four players, including Patrick Mazeika, who beat out an infield single in the fifth inning to extend his hitting streak to 11 games.
The Owls had nine hits in the game, but were still shutout for the first time this year. Andy Almonte, Kal Simmons and Max Pentecost had two hits each for Kennesaw State.
The Hatters will try to win their first A-Sun series of the year tomorrow, and will have to get that win by beating KSU senior left-hander Kevin Kyle (4-2, 3.00), who has fond memories of pitching at Melching Field. Kyle pitched seven strong innings in the A-Sun Tournament last year to help KSU defeat Belmont on the second day of the tournament.
Stetson will likely counter with Fagan (2-0, 1.83), but that decision has not yet been finalized. In his only other start this year the freshman right-hander went seven innings, allowing one earned run on three hits at Florida State.
The game also marks the end of a long stretch of home games for Stetson. The Hatters will have played 26-of-28 games this year at home, but will play just four home games during the month of April.