For the second time in as many days, the Stetson Hatters got solid starting pitching and just enough offensive production to defeat visiting Lipscomb at Melching Field.
On Saturday, the starting pitcher was senior Lindsey Caughel (5-2), who faced the minimum through five innings as the Hatters took a 4-2 victory from the Bison. Caughel allowed just one earned run (two total) in 6.2 innings of work with one walk and seven strikeouts.
The victory moved Stetson (25-13 overall, 8-6 in the Atlantic Sun Conference) past Lipscomb (17-22, 9-8) into fourth place in the league race. In order to hold that spot, the Hatters will have to complete the series sweep on Sunday. The final game of the weekend is set for an 11 a.m. start.
“That was a solid performance and it was great to piggy-back on (Kurt) Schluter’s performance from last night,” Stetson coach Pete Dunn said. “The bull pen came in and did a nice job. Tucker (Donahue) got us out of a jam and then (Jake) Boyd came in and had a good inning before (Robbie ) Powell got the save. It was a well-pitched game.”
Caughel did not allow a Lipscomb runner to reach base until surrendering a walk to open the fourth. That runner was quickly erased when Hatters catcher picked off Shawn Mehring to cap a strike out-throw out double-play.
The scenario was much the same in the fifth when Zach Lowery opened the inning with a single. Kimmel threw him out trying to steal and then Caughel retired the next two Bisons hitters.
“I felt good out there,” Caughel said. “I had my stuff from the beginning of the game and was able to establish the outside corner of the plate. My approach was the same all day. I wanted to get my fastball on the inside corner and then work with sliders away, especially with runners on base. That seemed to work out well for me.”
While Caughel was almost flawless through five innings, Lipscomb starter Blake Fonfara (2-5) had to work a little harder. Stetson had runners in scoring position against the left-hander in every inning but, going to the bottom of the fifth, had managed to score just one run while leaving eight runners stranded.
The lone run for the Hatters at that point came in the third when Schluter delivered a sacrifice fly with the bases loaded to score Robert Crews from third. That changed in the fifth thanks to an error by Lipscomb shortstop Aaron Sandoval on a bases loaded ground ball. His throw to second base was wild, allowing Mark Jones and Kimmel to score, giving Stetson a 3-0 lead.
“We put ourselves into positions to score, and even though we didn’t score as many as we would have liked, we didn’t strikeout,” Dunn said. “That was the thing at Miami that hurt us because we didn’t make contact. We made some contact today, but we didn’t get the hits that we needed.”
Caughel faced his first major adversity in the sixth when Sandoval reached on a throwing error by Jones. Hutchinson followed with a single and, after both runners moved up on a sacrifice but, Sandoval scored on a grounder to Jones at short, who cut down Hutchinson trying to go to third.
The Bison cut Stetson’s lead to 3-2 in the seventh when Zach Messer singled to leadoff the inning and scored two strikeouts later on a single by Griffin Moore. After another single put the tying and go-ahead runs on base, Donahue was called on to get the Hatters out of the inning, and he did so by striking out Hutchinson looking.
“I had a little bit of a rough inning there at the end, but Tucker came in to pick me up and then the rest of the bull pen did a great job and we played great defense,” Caughel said. “You really can’t ask for more than that.”
The Hatters did get some more in the form of an insurance run in the eighth inning. Lipscomb freshman Hunter Brothers pitched well in relief of Fonfara and was within an out of sending the game to the ninth with a 3-2 score. Crews made sure that didn’t happen, launching a long home run into the gusting wind to push the Stetson lead to 4-3.
“The home run in the eighth from Robert, a lot of people might not realize how big that run was,” Dunn said. “You protect a two-run lead a lot differently than you do a one-run lead, so we able to a lot of things differently because of that run.”
Crews said he knew that he hit the ball well, but wasn’t sure initially if it would fight through the wind.
“I hit the ball pretty good, but the first thing that came into my mind was the wind, because it was blowing pretty good,” Crews said. “I wasn’t 100 percent sure of it, but once I saw it get going I was sure.”
Powell was able to work around a leadoff single and an error in the ninth inning to earn his ninth save of the year.
The Hatters will try to complete the sweep on Sunday, something Stetson hasn’t done in league play in more than a year, a three-game sweep of Kennesaw State last April 8-10.
“All you can do is put yourself in the situation,” Dunn said. “Whether or not we can do it, we will have to go our and earn it. It is the first time we have had the opportunity to even win the first two.”
Caughel did not downplay the importance of the series finale.
“Tomorrow’s game is the biggest game of the year so far,” Caughel said. “(Will) Dorsey will come out and give us a great start. We haven’t swept a conference opponent so far this year, and doing so would put us back in strong contention going into the conference tournament at the end of the year. It is a huge game.”
If the Hatters are able to complete the sweep, Dunn said he hopes the team can use that to get on a run late in the year.
“Last year we started so strong and ran off a bunch of wins,” Dunn said. “After Schluter went down the last part of the regular season and into the conference tournament, we played about .500. I would have loved to have played that part of the year with Schluter available. Maybe this is the year we will get to do that. Hopefully, with him back and gaining confidence, we can make a strong run here toward the end of the season and carry that into the post-season.”