Whether it was a premonition or just good fortune, the move paid off for the Hatters, who got six nearly flawless innings from sophomore left-hander Austin Perez in a 6-2 victory over the Bulls at the USF Baseball Stadium.
The Hatters improved to 19-9 overall on the year with their third straight win while dropping USF to 20-10.
Originally, the Hatters were going to use freshman Josh Powers as the starter on Tuesday night, but instead gave the ball to Perez (1-2). He faced just one over the minimum through five innings, with a third inning walk the only blemish. A one-out single by Luis Llerena in the sixth ended the no-hit bid.
“We hadn’t really decided and we talked this morning and made the decision to go with Perez,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “Powers is a young kid, and he has got to help us this year, but with only two left-handers we have to have them ready to go. We thought this was a great opportunity to get Perez out there and have a good outing to help his confidence.”
It was just the third start of the year for Perez, who took the loss in his first start, against Central Michigan, despite allowing just one earned run over five innings. His second start, at Florida State, ended after allowing four walks in two innings.
“When you are told you are going to pitch, you have to go pitch, there is not much else you can do,” Perez said. “I didn’t have the best bull pen before the game, but it is funny how baseball works. Sometimes when you have a bad bull pen, you get surprised by how much works when you get out there. My job was to go out there and get six innings and let the bull pen take the rest.”
The Hatters got all the offense they would need on the second pitch from USF starter Matt Reed (3-3) in the second inning when Mark Jones blasted a solo homer to left. Stetson added three more runs in the third inning on three singles and a Bulls error.
The Hatters added a single run in the seventh inning on a bloop double by Sam Kimmel, and one in the ninth on a solo homer by Ryan Lashley.
Tucker Donahue and Jake Boyd worked consecutive no-hit innings for the Hatters in relief of Perez before Robbie Powell allowed four singles in the ninth, allowing the Bulls to score a pair of runs.
Still, the story of the night was the outing by Perez.
“That is the way he can pitch,” Dunn said. “He threw strikes, had command and pitched ahead. He mixed his speeds up, got his breaking ball over, and they just never seemed to solve him. He might have been able to go another inning, but we actually got more than we thought from him. We thought if he could give us five innings we could turn it over to the bull pen, but he was cruising. You can’t take a kid out with a no-hitter.”
The Hatters now return to Melching Field on Thursday night to open a three-game Atlantic Sun Conference series against Jacksonville. Dunn said that even though the team is disappointed with a 4-5 record on the nine-game trip, it is all just part of the process of going through a season.
“We are disappointed in the road trip, but we came back at Mercer, with our backs to the wall, and won two straight,” Dunn said. “Then we come over here and beat a club that has been playing really well. We got good pitching tonight, we got a couple of long balls but we also played the short game well. I thought we played a solid game tonight.”
Thursday and Friday’s games against Jacksonville are scheduled for 6:30 p.m. starts while Saturday’s series finale is scheduled for 2 p.m.