FORT MYERS, Fla.—Stetson’s late-innings rally fell just short as the Hatters dropped a 7-5 decision to Kennesaw State in the second round of the Atlantic Sun Conference Championship, Thursday at Swanson Stadium.
Stetson scored three times in the eighth and twice in the ninth but it wasn’t enough to avoid the loss.
The loss drops Stetson (25-33) into the loser’s bracket, and the Hatters will face East Tennessee State in an elimination game at 3 p.m., Friday.
“I’m proud of the way we battled back,” said Stetson head coach Pete Dunn. “We kept coming back even after they scored twice in the eighth. We had some opportunities early today and just couldn’t come up with a hit. Sooner or later, we have to come up with a big hit with runners in scoring position.”
Kennesaw State’s Travis Bergen (7-4) tossed seven shutout innings. The Owls (35-21) led 4-0 when he departed, and added a run in the bottom of the seventh for a 5-0 lead. But the Hatters rallied in the eighth and ninth, and nearly pulled off a remarkable comeback.
Down by five runs in the eighth, Stetson cut the lead to 5-3 thanks to a two-out rally. Kyle Pitts laced an RBI triple to right field, and pinch-hitter Jordan Schulz knocked in Pitts with a single to right as the Hatters got within two.
The Owls scored what proved to be the winning runs in the bottom of the eighth, as the Stetson bullpen allowed two runs on three hits. But the Hatters didn’t go down in the ninth without a fight.
Consecutive walks to Tyler Bocock and Patrick Mazeika started the inning for Stetson. Taylor Cockrell knocked in Bocock with a double to right-center field to make it 7-4, and Garrett Russini plated Mazeika two batters later with a sacrifice fly as Stetson pulled to within 7-5.
With Cockrell at third, pinch hitter Robert Bruce drew the third Stetson walk of the inning, putting the tying run on base with two outs. But the rally fell short when KSU’s Justin McCalvin retired Pitts on a pop up to end the game, sending Stetson to the loser’s bracket.
“When you’re in the loser’s bracket every pitch is important,” said Dunn. “We have to play hard like we did today and yesterday, and just grind it out. We’ve got to stay aggressive tomorrow.
“We also have to get a well-pitched game, and we need to keep swinging the bats like we have been. We’ve done a better job in that area the last third of the season.”
Kennesaw State opened the scoring in the third inning. Justin Motley led off with a double, moved to second on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a one-out single by Kal Simmons.
The Owls scored again in the fourth. KSU loaded the bases with none out and got a pair of sacrifice flies to make it a 3-0 game.
Bo Way gave KSU a 4-0 lead with an RBI single in the fifth, and the Owls stretched their advantage to 5-0 in the seventh on an RBI single by Jacob Bruce.
Austin Perez (2-8) started for the Hatters and was solid in his six innings on the mound, allowing four runs on eight hits while striking out three.
Stetson managed 10 hits on the night, with Cockrell going 3-for-5 with an RBI. Pitts had a pair of his and drove in a pair.
Way led Kennesaw State with three hits.