Stetson completed its first series sweep of the season on Sunday with an 7-6 victory over Northern Kentucky, but getting the sweep was anything but easy.
The Hatters (26-26, 15-9) got a sacrifice fly off the bat of Garrett Russini in the seventh inning and then held their collective breaths in the ninth as freshman Tyler Warmoth (5-2) loaded the bases by hitting two batters before getting the final out of the game on a fly ball.
NKU falls to 8-43 on the year overall and 3-21 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. The Norse are now 4-15 on the year in one-run games, a record that includes eight one-run losses during their current 12-game losing streak.
The day started for Stetson with senior Chad Rood on the mound and, after a perfect first inning, he had some bad luck.
“We handed Chad the ball and told him to go for as long as he could,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “We needed to turn that double play for him in the fourth, and we couldn’t do it. That has been a bugaboo for us all year, and we aren’t going to win the tournament if we can’t turn a double play.”
Rood gave allowed two runs in the second, third and fourth innings while only allowing two hard-hit balls during those three frames. Brett Cisper’s two-run double in the second came after a pair of slow-rolling infield hits and a bloop off the end of the bat loaded the bases.
In the third, two more bloop hits set the stage for a Brad Clement RBI double. The two runs in the fourth came after the Hatters were unable to turn what would have been an inning-ending double play.
“After all of that in the fourth, Joe Dye came in and threw one pitch to get the double play to end the inning,” Dunn said. “But then they returned the favor in the bottom of the inning to prevent us from getting a run in after Kevin Fagan led off with a triple.”
The Hatters got off to a good start offensively, scoring five times in the second inning to chase NKU starter Matt Jefferson. Stetson had seven of its 12 hits in that inning. K’shawn Smith and Darby McCormick had the big blows in the frame, both delivering two-run singles.
After the Norse tied the game in the fourth, the game remained tied at 6-6 until the seventh inning when McCormick led off with a single off Brett Loeding (2-7), moved up on a walk to Patrick Mazeika and a sacrifice bunt by James Rasmussen. Russini followed with a fly ball to medium depth left field, and McCormick slid home ahead of the throw froom Quint Heady.
Warmoth worked the final three innings for the Hatters to get the win. He had a hard time closing out the Norse in the ninth after Cody Kuzniczci led off with a single and then Warmoth hit Brandon Wood and Cisper on consecutive two out pitches to load the bases.
“Sometimes, when that adrenaline gets to pumping, you try to do a little too much,” Dunn said of Warmoth. “He was trying to throw the ball too hard and, when he does that, his arm drags through. He was able to get it back to get the out when he needed it.”
For the second straight game, the Hatters got offensive production up and down the lineup. Eight of the nine guys in the starting lineup had at least
“This might not have been the most artistic game, and it certainly wasn’t the way we drew it up, but a W is a W,” Dunn said. “We have made a lot of changes and had a lot of different looks to the lineup in this series and, for the most part, the guys stepped up.”
The Hatters got two hits each in the game from McCormick, Bocock and Smith, who finished the week batting .248 on the year, up 72 points after hitting .550 for the week with three doubles, five runs scored and seven runs driven in.
NKU got three hits from Kuzniczci and two each from Bradley Vanderglas, Clement and Caleb Lonkard.
With a streak of six straight conference series wins in their pocket, the Hatters will go into the final week of the season with a chance to earn at least a share of the regular season league title. The Hatters are alone in fourth place, two games behind league leading Mercer, and just one behind North Florida and Florida Gulf Coast, who are tied for second.
The Hatters will close the season against the Eagles, a team that swept Stetson in the final series of 2012.
“After losing the first two series of the season, what kind of odds could you have gotten against us winning the next six series?” Dunn said. “We have still got a big one in front of us and we need to make it seven. To win six straight series is awfully impressive, especially with this club, knowing where we were when we started it. The guys have really persevered on the weekend.
“We still have one series left, and it is the biggest one of the year.”
The series at Florida Gulf Coast will start on Thursday night in Ft. Myers. The first pitch from Swanson Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m.