Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Hello fans and welcome back to “On the Bump.”  It was a long and tiring weekend, but there is no rest for the weary as we have a doubleheader with Texas College on Tuesday. This week we will take a quick look into our week of preparation for Hendrix College, and I will give a quick rundown of each of our three games against the Warriors. Please bear with me on the game recaps, because I do not have access to the box scores yet; so, I apologize if I leave out any guys who had good statistical games.

Much like last week, the middle of the week was mixed with classic southern thunderstorms. While it was tough to have full practices because of the rain, we did get pretty good at putting the tarp on the field. It is a luxury to have a nice, big tarp for our infield because it allows us to pull it off when the rain is over and the infield is ready to go for any drills we need to go over. The outfield takes a little longer to drain, but it is nice to be able to use the infield an hour after a storm rolls through. While pitchers and infielders work in the infield, our outfielders will go hit in the batting cages. Last year we upgraded our batting cages, and they are very nice. We have five cages that our hitters can use, and the flooring is the synthetic field turf that you see on many football fields these days. I have not seen any of the fields or facilities in our new conference, but I would imagine we have some of the nicer facilities in the conference. We take pride in the nice things we have, and we work hard to take care of the field, cages, and our equipment.

The team planned to show up to the field at 8:30 on Saturday morning for our noon doubleheader; however, an early morning storm forced the start time to be pushed back to 3 PM. I had the opportunity to start game 1 for our team. It was an honor to start on Opening Day because we had a couple of guys who were worthy. Unfortunately, I went out there with a little too much adrenaline and uncharacteristically left the ball up in the strike zone. To Hendrix’s credit, their hitters did a good job of hitting the mistakes I left up in the zone. I threw strikes and competed, but I know that I could have done better. Nic Parrott replaced me in the 4th inning and helped me out of a jam. At that point, we were down 4-2 and still in the game. However, an 11-run 5th inning broke open the game for Hendrix. It was just one of those innings in which nothing went right for us, and everything went right for them. If you play sports long enough, you will be on both ends of an inning like this at some point in your life. Unfortunately, it was their day. We used 5 different pitchers in the inning, and Hendrix handled each one. While we did give up a few free passes (HBP, walk, error), the Hendrix hitters did a good job of battling and putting the ball in play. While people who were at the game may say that many of their hits were “bloopers” or “lucky,” you have to remember that good things happen when a hitter battles and puts the ball in play. On a positive note, freshman Peyton Stover came out of the bullpen and threw well for us in his first collegiate appearance. On the offensive side, I was proud of our guys. They managed to battle back from the large deficit and cut their lead to 7 late in the game. However, we gave up a few late runs, and we lost 21-12. Tyler Clakley led our offense by going 4 for 5 with 3 RBI. Matt Creamer, Ryan Gasporra, Jemari James, and Kyle Morton each scored twice. I know we had some other great offensive performances, but I cannot remember all the numbers without a box score in front of me.

After the marathon game 1, we had to finish the day by playing the back end of the doubleheader 30 minutes after the end of the first game. Senior Lance Nugent took the mound for us. This is Lance’s first season to play for us as he transferred in from LSU-Shreveport last Christmas. I know he was excited to get out there and compete in a real game instead of pitching to our guys in an intersquad scrimmage as he did for the past year. Lance went out and filled up the strike zone, competed, and put our team in position to win the game. The turning point in the game occurred when we were down 2-1 in the 3rd inning. Hendrix had a runner at 3rd with 1 out and a chance to extend their lead. They hit a fly ball to right field, which appeared deep enough to be a sacrifice fly. However, our right fielder Tyler Clakley had other ideas. He caught the ball for the second out of the inning and fired a strike to home plate to gun down the Hendrix runner attempting to score from third base. That single play gave our team momentum and helped carry us to victory. Another key play occurred when Jeff Schaffert smashed a ball to left field in the 4th inning. I believe the ball would have been a home run on a normal day, but a stiff wind knocked the ball down into the corner. The play resulted in an RBI double for Jeff, and it gave us a lead that we would not relinquish. After 5.1 solid innings from Nugent, freshman Taylor Henry (a local product from Airline High School in Bossier City) took the mound and closed out the game for us. He recorded 4 out of his 5 outs via strike out and did a great job of competing. It was great to see a young guy get out there and close the game for us in his first college baseball game. Offensively, Matt Creamer was a spark plug out of the leadoff spot, going 2 for 4 and generating several scoring opportunities. Also, freshman Scotty Debrouwer had a clutch hit in the 6th inning for us that delivered a run and extended our lead to 5-3. I was really proud of our guys for coming back and winning the 2nd game of the doubleheader after struggling in game 1.

Sunday’s game was a big game for us. The coaches have always told us, “It’s all about Sunday.” This means that on Sunday you either have the chance to sweep a team (win all 3 games in the series), win the series (win 2 out of 3), or avoid being swept. Since we split the games on Saturday, Sunday’s game would determine the winner of the series. We sent Chase Clarke to the mound to start game 3 of the series. Chase is a local product from Evangel High School, and it was also his first collegiate game. He did a great job, pitching 4 shutout innings and setting a solid tone for us. Jeff Schaffert got our offense going in the first inning with a 2-run double to right center that scored Ryan Gasporra and Kyle Morton. Nic Parrott pitched a gritty 1.2 innings after Chase, and, after that, he handed the ball off to Taylor Henry with 2 outs in the 6th inning. Henry proceeded to close out the game, pitching the final 3.1 innings and earning his second save of the weekend. Offensively, Kyle Morton and Dan Lazarou each went 2-3 at the plate.

It was a solid first weekend for us. Its tough to complain after winning a series, but I know we can play better. Give Hendrix credit though. They were a very solid team, and I think some of us underestimated their abilities going into the weekend. They were well coached and very disciplined at the plate. They battled hard, and it was a great first series. It was a good measuring stick to see where we stand ability wise to open the season. I know that over the next few weeks our pitching, hitting, and defense will continue to improve, and, as a result, we will become a better ballclub. As I said earlier, I was very proud of our team for battling back to win the last 2 games of the series after the first game did not go our way. It would have been easy to mail it in and hang our heads after the first game, but instead we stepped up our game and battled.

We now turn our attention to a doubleheader against Texas College on Tuesday. After Tuesday, we will have played 5 games in 4 days. Needless to say, we will have some exhausted players, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We love getting out there and competing, and we have the depth to be able to rest a few guys if needed. I will be excited to see how our pitching staff bounces back from a tough game one on Saturday. You always have to go out there with confidence and think that you will be successful. I believe our young guys are learning that on the fly, but each opportunity is a chance to improve and build your knowledge and success.

Thanks for stopping by and come back next week to hear how our doubleheader with Texas College went. Go Gents!