Late Heroics Extend Hatters Magical Run
Even Mother Nature couldn’t slow the Stetson Hatters on Thursday.
More than four and half hours of delays due to rain and lightning seemed to take the steam out of Stetson’s hot bats, but just as they seemed to be down for the count, the Hatters got off the mat to defeat Jacksonville 9-7 on day two of the 2016 Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.
The Hatters (27-29) move on in the winners’ bracket and await the winner of the North Florida-Lipscomb game, which will get day three of the tournament started on Friday morning at 9 a.m. local time. Jacksonville (33-22) saw its season come to an end, just as Kennesaw State did earlier in the day in a 6-0 loss to Florida Gulf Coast.
Stetson, which is 2-0 in A-Sun Tournament play for the first time since 2006, is scheduled to play the UNF-LU winner at 12:30 p.m. on Friday. The loser of that game will face Florida Gulf Coast in an elimination game, scheduled for 4 p.m. If FGCU were to win that game, then there would be a fourth game on the schedule for Friday.
Following more than four and a half hours of weather delays, the Hatters were on the short end of a 7-5 score going to the eighth inning at Lipscomb’s Ken Dugan Field. After having their bats go quiet for three innings following the delay, Stetson woke up in the eighth, scoring four times, thanks to five two-out hits in the inning.
“We are doing some things now that we haven’t shown all year,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “We battled back after giving up the lead. We had 15 hits tonight after 20 last night, but we had a lot of big, two-out hits, and that certainly has not been a trademark of ours during the regular season. We have come up big in these last two games.
“It was one of those games where we bent a little bit, but we didn’t break.”
As was the case in the first inning when he opened the game with a triple and went on to score the first run, it was junior Vance Vizcaino who got things going for Stetson in the eighth. He hit a little bloop down the left field line that found grass between a trio of Dolphins, just inside the foul line for a double.
After JU hurler Spencer Stockton (5-5) got the second out, Cory Reid blasted a shot off the wall in right to score Vizcaino. Reid was content to stop at second on the play, especially after having been thrown out by JU right fielder Austin Hays at third base in the first inning, but Hays uncorked a wild throw that ended up in the JU dugout, allowing Reid to score the tying run on the play.
“We needed some runs and we got what we needed in the eighth,” Vizcaino said. “We were able to capitalize on their mistakes. It was a great day.”
With two outs and no one on base following the errant throw, the Hatters continued to make things happen. A single by hot-hitting senior John Fussell, his fourth of the game, reignited the Stetson offense. Kirk Sidwell followed with a hit to chase Stockton. Austin Hale greeted new pitcher Casey Kulina with an RBI single, scoring Fussell with the go-ahead run, and senior Will Mackenzie added an RBI single, scoring Sidwell to make it 9-7.
From there, the Hatters turned the game over to junior closer Walker Sheller.
“Sheller is going to give me a heart attack before this is over, but he always finds a way to get out of those jams,” Dunn said. “It was my fault for sending Schaly back out to start the eighth, but he had done a great job for us. After he gave up those two hits, we gave the ball to Sheller at that point and he pitched out of it.”
Sheller got a pair of strikeouts and a ground ball to leave the tying runs on base in the eighth and then worked around a two-out walk in the ninth to close out the Dolphins for his 10th save of the year.
“I have a lot of respect for that team for the way they swing the bats,” Sheller said. “I am from Jacksonville, and it is always fun to play against guys that I grew up with.”
The Hatters jumped on JU starting pitcher Michael Baumann with a pair of early runs and had the bases loaded in the fourth inning when the game went into the first of two long weather delays.
The runs came in the first and third innings. Vizcaino got thing started by ripping a triple to open the game. Reid followed one out later with a double to drive home the run, but was thrown out on the play, trying to stretch for a triple, by Hays.
The Dolphins answered that run in the second when Nathan Koslowski blasted a two-out, three-run homer off Stetson freshman starter Erik Wiebke. It was just the second home run of the year for Koslowski, who hit his only other homer against the Hatters at Melching Field.
It was Reid who got things going for the Hatters in the third, drawing a walk to lead off the inning. Fussell moved Reid to third with a single and Sidwell drove him home with a ground ball.
Stetson loaded the bases off Baumann in the fourth, getting a walk, an errant throw by Baumann on a sacrifice bunt attempt, and a single from Vizcaino before umpires waved the players off the field due to lightning being detected in the area.
After an hour and 41 minutes off the field, JU closer Mike Cassala took the mound to try to clean up the mess Baumann had left. Matt Morales delivered a ground ball to short to score Kevin Fagan to tie the game. After Reid was retired for the second out, Fussell drew a walk to load the bases for Sidwell. Before he had a chance to produce, a wild pitch scored Vizcaino, and then Sidwell singled to score Morales for a 5-3 Stetson lead.
Logan Gilbert took the mound for Stetson in the fourth, and surrendered a leadoff home run to Hays, his league-leading 16th of the year. After retiring the next two JU hitters, Gilbert issued a walk to Seth DeWitt, but before he could go after the next hitter, lightning struck again.
This time the delay lasted two hours and 53 minutes, turning a day game into a night game.
When play resumed, Adam Schaly (2-6) came on to pitch, recording a strikeout to finally end the fourth inning, which, counting two delays, took about four hours and 50 minutes to play.
Stetson’s one-run lead lasted just until the next inning when Jacksonville took advantage of two Hatters errors to score three runs.
“It is tough for both teams to have to sit up for that long after getting out here and getting lathered up to start the game,” Dunn said. “You go sit in the air conditioning for that long and it is hard to get going again. I am just real proud of this team.”
Schaly, who worked 3.1 innings for the win, got out of trouble in the sixth inning when Fagan delivered a strike to the plate from left field on a hit by Dakota Julylia, cutting down Koslowski for the final out of the inning.
Fussell led Stetson with four hits in the game, giving him seven in two games in the tournament. Vizcaino, who had four hits in the first game, fell a home run short of hitting for the cycle on Thursday and also has seven hits in two games, as does Sidwell, who had three more hits and drove in two more runs in the win over JU.