On a night that started with Chipper Jones throwing out the first pitch, the Stetson Hatters had to do some chipping away of their own against the visiting Central Michigan Chippewas to escape with a 4-2 series-opening victory at Melching Field on Friday night.
The Hatters were never truly able to solve CMU starting pitcher Zach Cooper and got just three hits in the game while striking out 11 times. Two of those hits came after CMU errors extended innings, including the game-winner by junior Ryan Lashley in the eighth inning to plate a pair of runs, breaking a 2-2 tie.
Stetson improved to 4-0 on the season with the win while Central Michigan falls to 1-3.
“We certainly didn’t wear them out offensively, but Lashley came up with the big hit and that was great,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “I agree with what they did, putting on (Ben) Carhart to pitch to Lashley. He fell behind early but kept fighting and got the count even before coming up with the big hit.”
Lashley’s late heroics would not have been relevant had it not been for an outstanding performance out of the bull pen by sophomore Cameron Griffin (1-0). The Naples native came on in relief of Hatters starter Kurt Schluter in the sixth inning to face a bases loaded situation with one out.
Griffin said he came in looking for a ground ball, but got a strikeout and then a ground ball to get out of the inning.
“Whenever you go into a situation with the bases loaded and one out you have to have a little more adrenalin pumping to get the job done,” Griffin said. “I felt pretty good out there. I had a feel for all of my pitches, which was nice. Honestly, I went in looking for a ground ball because that is the best way to get out of that kind of situation, but a strikeout is not a bad choice either.”
Griffin pitched two more innings and finished with three strikeouts while allowing just one hit. Senior Robbie Powell came on to pitch the ninth inning to pick up his second save of the year.
“Obviously Schluter wasn’t real sharp and didn’t have great command,” Dunn said of his junior starter. “The thing is, he kept us in the game, and that is the thing pitchers have to do when they don’t have their good stuff. Schluter ground it out, even though he wasn’t really sharp, and held them to two runs. Then Grif came in and did a magnificent job to shut them down at that point. He got us out of a big inning.”
Central Michigan scored a pair of runs early in the game, getting one in the first on an RBI single by Nate Theunissen and one in the third on a wild pitch. Stetson took a brief lead in the second inning on a two-run single by Kyle Zech off Cooper, who worked 7.0 strong innings for the Chippewas, allowing just the two unearned run on two hits wile striking out 11.
Junior reliever Patrick Kaminska (0-1) took the loss when he surrendered Lashley’s hit in the eighth inning. That frame started with an error by CMU third baseman Joey Houlihan, who came in to play the position in the sixth after starter Tom Lally was charged with a pair of errors.
“You have to take advantage when the other team makes mistakes, and that is what we did tonight,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “We haven’t made an error since the opening hitter of the first game. As long as we can keep doing that, and pitch well, we’ll be in games.”
The Hatters and Chippewas will continue their four-game weekend series with a double-header on Saturday. The first game is scheduled for a 2 p.m. start.