The Stetson Hatters needed a victory on Sunday in the series finale against Saint Joseph’s, and style was not something that mattered.
The Hatters got their first win of the season in walk-off fashion when sophomore Tanner Blackman laced a single to right with one out in the ninth to score Kevin Fagan from second, just ahead of the throw home. The 7-6 victory over the Hawks helped Stetson avoid a season-opening sweep at Melching Field.
“I can’t remember ever being so happy to get one out of three,” Hatters head coach Pete Dunn said. “When you are 0-2, if you can get that third one you have to happy. We did a lot of things well today, but we also did a lot of things not so well.”
Two of the main things the Hatters struggled with in the game was in getting down sacrifice bunts and fielding basic pop flies in the infield. Mistakes in the infield resulted in the Hawks scoring two runs in the fifth inning to tie the game. The inability to get down a bunt bit the Hatters more than one, and was also a factor in the ninth inning.
“If we can’t improve our bunting game, which we will, we won’t win many games,” Dunn said. “We didn’t play real well, but we got the win and that is a start. Sometimes you need that ugly win. We needed a win, and it didn’t matter if it was ugly or pretty. As a coach, you want to get that pretty win, but we needed a win today. It was an ugly win, but it was a win.”
The Hatters winning rally in the ninth started when Garrett Russini drew a walk from junior left-hander Steven Schuler (0-1), the fifth St. Joe’s pitcher of the game. Freshman Kevin Fagan, who had started the first two games of the series, but came on in the fifth as a pinch hitter and worked the ninth inning on the mound, tried to get down a bunt to move Russini into scoring position, but was unsuccessful, getting his catcher thrown out at second base on the sacrifice attempt.
Mike Fernland followed with a chop infield hit to third base, bringing Blackman to the plate with two runners on and one out.
Like Fagan, Blackman did not start the game. He came on to play left-field in the fifth inning after starter Kyle Zech was pinch hit for in the fourth. Until his at bat in the ninth, the leadoff spot in the Stetson lineup was 0-for-5 with four strikeouts. Blackman fell behind early in the count, but got a pitch he could handle and smacked a solid line single to right.
“We knew he would start me off with a fastball and I had the green light to be aggressive,” Blackman said. “I fouled off the first pitch and Coach Dunn always preaches to us about battling with two strikes. I got a pitch up over the outer half of the plate and just went with it to right field, which is what we are taught to do.”
Fagan (1-0) earned the victory for the Hatters in relief. He was the fifth Stetson pitcher of the day, and the fourth freshman to follow just starter Cameron Griffin.
“I know Cam had the one bad inning, but I think we can really build on that start with him,” Dunn said. “After that, we had four freshman in there, and that is encouraging because all of them pitched well. We got some good performances out of those freshmen.”
Griffin surrendered four runs in his three-plus innings of work. Three of those runs came in the fourth inning right after the Hatters put a three-spot on the board to take a 4-1 lead.
“I told him that after we put that three spot on the board he has to go out there and shut them down,” Dunn said. “He didn’t do that and let them come right back. That is point that has to be made to all of our pitchers. We would have all liked to have seen him get out of that one inning, but he made some good pitches and threw the ball pretty well. It was a pretty good start for him.”
Griffin was followed on the mound by Adam Schaly, Josh Thorne, Brandon Diaz and Fagan. Only Schaly allowed any runs, and both were unearned in the fifth inning as the result of an error when Carlos Garmendia dropped a popup at third base that would have been the final out of the inning.
“I think we have to work on catching popups and on fly ball communication,” Dunn said. “That was a ball that Schaly probably should have caught, but I think Carlos called him off. They capitalized when we dropped that fly ball with two outs and scored two.”
The Hawks capitalized when Mike Muha blasted a ball deep into the right-field corner after the error. James Rasmussen went after it, but was unable to make a play and Muha circled the bases for an inside-the-park homer when the Hatters tried to track down the loose ball.
The other big hit in the game for Saint Joseph’s was a bases-loaded triple by Greg Kumpel in the fourth inning that ended the day for Griffin.
The Hatters were able to get some runs on the board early on Sunday. Fernland singled in Garmendia in the second and then Stetson scored three times in the third off Hawks starter Daniel Thorpe with a pair of singles, a hit batter, a wild pitch, a sacrifice bunt and a double-play grounder.
Stetson scored twice more in the fifth inning with the help of a pair of walks and an error by the Hawks.
The Hatters will have a short week to get ready for their next series. Maine (0-3) will visit for a three-game series starting on Thursday night after getting swept at Auburn this weekend.
“I know Maine is going to be good,” Dunn said. “The last time they were in here they were good and Coach (Steve) Trimper does a good job with them.
“Saint Joseph’s certainly didn’t play like they were right out of the gym. We played like we had been in a gym and they had been outside. Now Maine will come in here after playing at Auburn, so it won’t be their first time out. I am sure they will be better in their second weekend. We have to make sure that we get a lot better.”