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Even after seeing a three-run lead evaporate late in Saturday’s game against Saint Joseph’s at Melching Field, the Stetson Hatters still felt good about their chances with the middle of the batting order due up in the ninth inning.

That optimism vanished in a flurry of strikeouts as Hawks’ closer Jimmy Yacabonis struck out the side in the home half of the ninth to preserve St. Joe’s 5-4 victory in the second game of the three-game season-opening series.

The Hatters will try to avoid getting swept at home in a season opening series for the first time since dropping a four-game season-opening series to Boston College in 2009 when the teams meet in the series finale on Sunday. The game is scheduled for a 12:30 p.m. first pitch.

Stetson owned a 4-1 lead going to the eighth inning on Saturday, but saw that advantage disappear as the Hawks scored four times against three Hatters hurlers before freshman Adam Schaly came in to end the inning with a strikeout, leaving the bases full of Saint Joseph’s runners.

With six outs to work with to overcome the deficit, Stetson managed just one hit, a two-out single by Mike Fernland in the eighth inning.

“The thing that was most troubling to me, from an offensive standpoint, was the last inning,” Hatters head coach Pete Dunn said. “We are one run down with our two, three and four hole hitters up. We were not taking a strike, we told them to go up there and look fastball because we knew he was going to come right after them. Out of six strikes on the first two hitters all we could manage was a check swing. We have to compete better than that.”

The three strikeouts in the ninth inning capped an 11 strikeout day for the Stetson hitters. Hawks starter Jordan Carter recorded four strikeouts over his 3.2 innings and the bull pen got the rest. Reliever Kevin Burum (1-0) got the victory despite allowing two run on one hit over 1.1 innings, but he avoided allowing more runs in the seventh with a strikeout to end the frame with two Stetson runners on base.

“We struck out 11 times, and we aren’t going to win many games by punching out 11 times,” Dunn said. “We don’t have a team that has proven they can score runs in bunches. We have to put the ball in play, but we punched out 11 times, three of those in the ninth inning when we are down one run and you have to go up there and battle.”

The late rally by Saint Joseph’s spoiled a strong effort from sophomore starting pitcher Josh Powers. The big right-hander worked into the sixth inning allowing just one run – a one-out homer by Quinn Renner in the first inning – on five hits with one walk and seven strikeouts.

“Powers did a great job, and that was Josh Powers,” Dunn said. “That is just what he does. People don’t put the barrel of the bat on it very much. He pitched his way out of the one little trouble spot he had after giving up a leadoff double in the fifth. He got out of that and went back out for the next inning. He certainly pitched well enough to win but, as a team, we aren’t doing enough things well enough to win yet.”

The Hatters built their 4-1 lead by scoring twice in the third inning and twice more in the seventh, but left multiple runners on base to end both frames. Tyler Bocock and Patrick Mazeika had RBI singles in the third inning to give Stetson a 2-1 lead. The advantage grew when Mitchel Brennan double in a run in the seventh and James Rasmussen plated another with a sacrifice fly.

“The thing about a close game like this is you have to capitalize on your chances,” Dunn said. “We got picked off with two outs in the fourth inning when they had dropped a fly ball and then walked the next batter. We had a chance there with two outs but ran ourselves out of the inning.

“We obviously have a long way to go. With this ball club we are looking for little things. We have to find ways to win but we haven’t found it yet. We are only two games in but, today we had an opportunity to find a way to win and we let it get away from us.”

The Hawks got their big inning started with a leadoff single by Renner off senior Joe Dye in the eighth. Brian O’Keefe followed with a one-out single to chase Dye. Freshman left-hander Garrison Banas came in to face left-handed hitting Stefan Kancylarz but, after issuing a wild pitch, issued an intentional walk.

Another freshman, right-hander Tyler Warmoth (0-1), came on to pitch with the bases loaded and surrendered a two-run single to Chris Hueth, followed by an RBI double to John Brue to tie the game. After another intentional walk loaded the bases, Mike Muha plated the winning run with a sacrifice fly.

“We are finding ways to lose,” Dunn said. “I guess that is what young teams do.”

The Hatters will send junior left-hander Cameron Griffin to the mound for his second college start on Sunday. The Naples native has made 65 appearances in his Stetson career, but will move into a full-time starter role this season.

“I hope he has a solid start and throws strikes,” Dunn said. “They haven’t seen a lot, but they haven’t swung the bats against left-handers very well so far. (Austin) Perez and Banas did a nice job last night and Schaly did today. We hope he can fill the zone up and take us deep into the game. He is going to be one of our guys, so he has to go out there and learn how to be a starter every weekend.”

For tickets to all Stetson home baseball games during the 2013 season, call 386-738-HATS or visit GoHatters.com for information.

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