Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Hey everyone, and welcome back to the Mardi Gras edition of On the Bump. We have the whole week off of school for Mardi Gras break, so it is already a great week in my books. In this edition of the blog, I will talk about our tough three-game series at Trinity and discuss our progress through eight games as we prepare for our first conference series this upcoming weekend.

We started the mid-week series with a doubleheader on Tuesday. We woke up early on Tuesday morning at our hotel and headed over to Trinity for an early morning practice. We typically practice at the other team’s field the night before the first game when we play on the road, but a power outage on the Trinity campus on Monday night did not allow us to use their facilities. It was helpful to get out there on their field and see how the field plays (wind conditions, the way the ball bounces on the field, dimensions, etc.).

Game one began on a tough note for the Gents as we went 1-2-3 at the plate in the first inning. On top of that, their leadoff hitter started the bottom of the first inning by smacking a home run over the left field wall. However, Kyle Morton countered in the top of the second inning for us with a home run of his own to tie the game at 1. It was a seven-inning game, so we knew we had to strike early and put the pressure on them. Unfortunately, Trinity carried a 4-3 lead into the top of the seventh. They brought in their ace to close the game. He was a great pitcher, as his 26 strikeouts in 16 innings prior to our series indicated. He retired the first two hitters of the inning, but with our backs against the wall, Tyler Clakley crushed a ball into deep right and tied the game for us. However, in the bottom of the seventh, Trinity hit another home run to record the walk-off win by a score of 6-4. I was proud of our guys for battling all game, but I would be lying if I said we weren’t disappointed. Trinity is a top 20 team in the national rankings and it would have been nice to win that first game. We played fairly well on defense, but our pitching struggled a little at times and our hitting could have been better with two outs. Lance Nugent and Taylor Henry pitched in the game for us. They didn’t have their best stuff, but they both did a great job of battling and keeping us in the game. As a pitcher, our job is to give our team a chance to win. They both kept us in the game, and that is really all we can ask. At the plate, Kyle Morton stayed hot, going 3 for 4 with three RBI. Also, Jemari James went 2 for 3. Our defense was highlighted by several great plays in centerfield by Dan Lazarou.

The nightcap of the doubleheader started well for us, as we jumped out to a 2-0 lead after three innings behind RBI’s from Tyler Clakley and Kyle Morton and solid pitching from Chase Clarke. Trinity struck for four runs in the bottom of the fourth, off a mixture of hits, errors, walks, and a hit by pitch. This is exactly why our coaches preach to our defense and pitchers about not allowing free baserunners. Yes, Trinity had a few key hits, but we gave them a few runs also. On top of that, Trinity scored four more runs via the long ball in the top of the fifth to take an 8-2 lead. The score stayed at 8-2 until the top of the eighth, when we scratched out two runs via a two-run home run by “The Moose” (Kyle Morton). On the defensive side of the ball, Trey Guccione entered the game to pitch in the bottom of the fifth and held the Tigers scoreless throughout the back half of the game. He did a great job of keeping the ball down and keeping the aggressive Trinity hitters down. We entered the top of the ninth trailing 8-4, but the inning started with a hit by pitch followed by followed by four consecutive singles to pull us within one. A fielder’s choice knotted the game at eight and we were back in business. Trinity got a runner to third with no outs to start the bottom of the ninth, but Trey Guccione navigated his way out of the inning without allowing the winning run to score. Guccione was aided by great defensive placement. Coach Pat Jolley slides the defense around and aligns them based on the hitter. Jolley did a great job of sliding a few guys into the right spots to make key plays in clutch situations. We went down 1-2-3 in the top of the tenth, and then Trinity hit yet another home run in the bottom of the tenth to win via the walk off once again 10-8. I was really proud of our team for once again for battling against adversity and coming back in the late innings. However, we were really flat between innings 4-7. We looked kind of shell shocked after losing the lead, and we lost all of our momentum. On the mound, Chase Clarke and Trey Guccione threw well. Chase has thrown great for us in his first two outings and he has been a great addition to the team after joining us right before the spring semester. At the plate, Ryan Gasporra went 2 for 5, Tyler Clakley went 4 for 5 with two doubles, Kyle Morton went 3 for 5 with a home run and five RBI, and Jeff Schaffert went 2 for 5. It was extremely disappointing to lose both games of the doubleheader on walk-off home runs. We proved that we could hang with a top 20 team, but we do not want to settle for “good.” We want to be a great team, and, in order to be great, we need to learn how to finish close games.

We finished up the series with a single game on Wednesday. I started on the mound for us, as we looked to salvage a game in the series from the Tigers. They scored an unearned in the top of the first to take a 1-0 lead. It stayed that way until the top of the third, when Ryan Gasporra dropped a two-run bomb over the right field to put us ahead 2-1. In the bottom of the third I had a three-pitch inning, which is something I hadn’t seen since I was about 12 years old. We advanced the score to 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Dan Lazarou scored on a Craig Littleman double. Trinity scratched out another unearned run in the fourth to bring the score to 3-2. In the bottom of the sixth, a walk, error, single, walk knotted the score at 3 with runners on first and second and no outs. Peyton Stover replaced me on the mound at this point, and he induced a ground ball double play on the first batter he faced. However, a two-out RBI single gave them a 4-3 lead. In the top of the seventh, Craig Littleman led off with a double. Two batters later Ryan Gasporra cranked another two- run homer, a no-doubter, over the right field wall to give us a 5-4 lead. Tyler Clakley followed that with a double, and then a Kyle Morton RBI single extended the lead to 6-4. Trinity scored another unearned run in the eighth to draw closer 6-5. However, freshman Taylor Henry closed out the game for us, striking out the final batter to seal the victory. I was really proud of Henry for bouncing back after giving up a walk off home run the previous day and battling to finish a tough game and earn the save. Also, freshman Peyton Stover threw well in relief, earning the victory. It will really help our pitching staff down to stretch after all these freshmen learn to fight through tough situations on the mound. It is fun to watch the young guys grow up fast by being successful in clutch situations. On the downside, we had five errors in the field. However, we proved that we can win a game against a quality opponent with five errors. I think this fact shows that we can compete with anyone, but we just need to cut down on the mistakes. Jeff Schaffert, Kyle Morton, and Tyler Clakley each had multi-hit games. Also, Craig Littleman was clutch out of the 9 hole, going 3 for 4 with two doubles.

The Trinity series was great for our team because we had the opportunity to face off against a perennial Division III powerhouse. They were a great team that played flawless defense, strong pitching, and quality hitters. We played far from our potential, but we competed, and each game was decided in the last inning. As I said earlier, we just need to focus on closing out games and finishing strong. We are right on the brink of being a “great” team, we just need to iron out a few issues and be more consistent.

We returned from San Antonio and arrived back in Shreveport around 3:00 AM on Thursday morning. However, we live the life of a student-athlete, and many of our guys had to be at their 8:20 AM class five hours later. Fortunately, the coaching staff gave us Thursday off. I saw many of our guys in the trainer’s room on Thursday though. Let’s just say that 8-hour back rides don’t feel great on the body or the back after a hard fought three game series. However, long bus rides are a lot more fun after you win the last game of the series.

We practiced Friday, and then the coaching staff gave us the weekend off to enjoy a little bit of our Mardi Gras break. We hit the field on Monday and our pitching staff had our smoothest PFP’s I had seen since my freshman year. The intensity and focus was high, and we made nearly every single play in the 30-minute PFP session. On Tuesday, we scrimmaged, and each pitcher threw an inning. Also, we had former Centenary pitchers and current Los Angeles Angels minor league pitchers Dakota Robinson and Stephen Tromblee out at the field to throw an inning to prepare for Spring Training. It is great to have the professional guys out there because it motivates our guys to get to their level eventually.

This week we are preparing to play our first conference series. McMurry University out of Abilene, Texas, will visit Shreveport for a three-game series. We don’t know a lot about them, but they have played several quality teams to start their season as well. We know they will bring their best, because both teams want to start the conference season strong. Stop by next week to hear how our three-game series with McMurry went. Until next week, Go Gents!