SPARTANBURG, SC – Sundays in college baseball are usually about pitching. With two of their best options unavailable again this week, the Hatters got sparkling performances on the mound from Chad Rood and Josh Thorne to take a 6-2 victory over USC Upstate in the series finale.
The win gave the Hatters (17-20, 6-6 in Atlantic Sun Conference) their second straight series victory on the road in league play and gives Stetson the head-to-head advantage over the Spartans (21-15, 7-8) in the race for the A-Sun Tournament in May.
“Not only was this an outstanding game where we played well in all aspects, I told them that these two games, yesterday and today, were the best back-to-back games we have played all year,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “That is a step. Obviously we haven’t been able to generate a lot of wins and get a run going. We hope that this is part of the process. We played really well for two straight days and won two ball games on the road.”
Rood got the start for Stetson and held the potent Upstate lineup to just two runs on six hits over four innings of work. The senior has been forced into a much more prominent role this year due to the injuries suffered by Kurt Schluter and Kevin Fagan, that have kept them off the mound.
“Chad has been pushed into this role,” Dunn said of his senior. “With both Fagan and Schluter unavailable, we have had to use him as a starter. He has given us four solid innings several times. We have tried to push him beyond that a couple of times and it hasn’t worked out. Once we got those four solid innings from him we decided that since we had our bull pen in pretty good shape we’d give it to them.”
After his good effort, Rood turned things over to freshman Josh Thorne (3-0) in the fifth inning. The Stuart, Fla., native was nothing short of spectacular, holding Upstate to just three hits over the finale five innings while not allowing a walk and striking out three.
“We were hoping to get two innings from Thorne,” Dunn said. “We had it scripted for him to give us two, then go to Joe Dye and Tyler Warmoth to cover the rest of the game, and he just kept running with it. I am a firm believer that you don’t make changes when you don’t have to. As long as he kept doing what he did, we were going to leave him out there. We had Warmoth ready for the ninth, but we let him go back out there and we never had to go back to the bull pen.”
While Rood and Thorne were holding the Spartans in check, the Stetson offense continued to peck away. The Hatters scored single runs in six different innings. The first four runs came off starter Madison Bumgardner (4-1) and the last two came off reliever Jordan Rusk.
“We got outstanding pitching from Rood and Thorne today,” Dunn said. “We didn’t make an error, we had 10 hits, we got a squeeze bunt down to get a big run. I am real proud of the club for their effort. We were very disappointed in our play Friday night, but we put that behind us and came back to get two big wins against a very good club.”
Multiple players up and down the Stetson batting order contributed to the offense.
Garrett Russini had three hits, including a double, scored one run and drove in another. Patrick Mazeika had two hits, extending his hit streak to 21 games, and scored twice, and Kyle Pitts had an RBI single and a perfectly executed squeeze bunt to drive in two runs.
“Kyle Pitts did a really nice job for us,” Dunn said. “He got a couple of RBI and that was a big squeeze bunt to get another run. He brings a lot of energy to the game. We have struggled a little bit at second base and, now that he has finally gotten his opportunity, he is taking advantage of it.”
Upstate had nine hits in the game, but most of their damage was done by Tyler Lesch, who had four hits and drove in both of the Spartans’ runs.
After a nine-game, two-week, road trip, the Hatters will return home this week for a brief four-game homestand before heading back out onto the road for the rest of April. Stetson will host South Florida on Tuesday and will be looking to even the season series with the Bulls after dropping a 12-8 decision in Tampa on April 2.
“We have played better on the road recently, winning four of six conference games, but it is always nice to go back to Melching Field,” Dunn said. “We have a big game on Tuesday against South Florida, not only from a baseball standpoint, but we are going to honor our veterans and military people. It is important to honor those guys who have given so much to protect our freedom and I am really happy that we can honor them in just a small way.”
After the Military Appreciation Night game against USF, the Hatters will host ared-hot ETSU team that has posted back-to-back league sweeps over Northern Kentucky and Lipscomb the last two weeks. With a 10-5 league record, the Bucs are tied for second place in the A-Sun race with Mercer, just behind league-leading North Florida (9-3).
“We will have East Tennessee coming in next weekend and they are playing pretty good and have a good club,” Dunn said. “We just have to keep taking these small steps and try to get some momentum going. These were two good wins, but we have to try to string some more together to get some momentum.”