As the largest full moon of the year slowly climbed up the sky behind the batter’s eye at Melching Field, the Stetson Hatters saw their bats find some life on Saturday night to take a 6-3 victory over USC Upstate.
The win gives Stetson (30-16, 12-8) a chance to take the weekend series from the league-leading Spartans (31-14, 14-6) in Sunday’s series finale, which is set for a 1 p.m. start.
The Hatters got a solid performance from senior starting pitcher Lindsey Caughel (6-2), who scattered seven hits over six innings while allowing three runs. He walked two and struck out five.
“It was very important to get one from these guys because they have been playing so well this year,” Caughel said. “They are the most improved team in the conference, by far. They have a great approach at the plate.”
Offensively, Stetson used a small-ball attack similar to the one the Spartans used on Friday, bunting and putting pressure on the Upstate defense. The result was three errors by the Spartans, which led to three unearned runs for the Hatters.
“We just wanted to put pressure on them by having good at bats and we did that,” shortstop Mark Jones said. “Caughel threw a good game for us and we were able to make some good defensive plays behind him. It was a complete game.”
Both teams scored twice in the third inning, with Upstate’s runs coming on a single by Luke Weber and Stetson’s coming on run-scoring hits by Sam Kimmel and Jones off Spartans’ starting pitcher Scott DeCecco (5-2).
Just as the moon started to become visible in center, the Hatters put together a three-run fifth. Jones drove in a pair with his second hit of the game and then Kurt Schluter plated another with a run scoring ground ball.
Upstate scored its only other run in the sixth on back-to-back hits from Greg Guers and Tyler Cook and the Spartans threatened in every subsequent inning. The Stetson bull pen was up to the challenge, however, stranding a total of seven Upstate runners, six in scoring position, over the last three frames.
“They have a very good two-strike approach and were fouling off some sliders that I thought were good pitches,” Caughel said. “They were tough hitters. I have to realize that I can’t give in when hitters are pesky like that. You have to keep your composure and keep to your game plan. They are pesky, but you have to make quality pitches.”
Hatters closer Robbie Powell earned his 14th save of the year despite allowing two hits and two walks over just 1.1 innings. He loaded the bases in the ninth before getting Cook to chase a 3-2 pitch out of the strike zone to end the game.
Hatters assistant head coach Mark Leavitt, who is filling in for head coach Pete Dunn this weekend, said getting the win on Saturday was big.
“I think this win was huge,” Leavitt said. “USC Upstate has a really good team and they do things the right way. To be in a position to take two of three is huge.
“I think Lindsey Caughel set the tone by battling and giving us six solid innings. He didn’t have his best stuff, but he battled through. The pen did a great job for us. We played a little small ball tonight and the kids did a great job.”
Kimmel, Jones and Spencer Theisen had two hits each to lead Stetson while Gaither Bumgardner, who was hitless on Friday night, bounced back with four hits for the Spartans while Cook added two.
Jones, who drove in three of the six Stetson runs, said the win on Saturday could set the tone for the rest of the conference season.
“That was a huge win,” Jones said. “Those guys can really play and they have come a long way since I have been here. They are really good on the mound and their guys are really good at the plate. They made us earn this one. Tomorrow we have to come out the same way and try to scratch out a win in any way that we can.”
Stetson will send senior right-hander Will Dorsey (6-3, 2.96) to the mound for Sunday’s 1 p.m. start. Dorsey is a perfect 4-0 in A-Sun play this year and gives the rest of the Hatters a lot of confidence when he pitches.
“We need this game tomorrow because those guys are in first place,” Jones said. “If we could take two of three from them, it was be good. We have Will going out there and he has been throwing the ball really well. We have confidence in all of our pitchers, but especially with the way Will has been pitching. I am sure he is going to go out and give us everything he has. We have to play defense and put some runs up there and we will be OK.”