SIU Escapes VSU Twice in Triple-Header
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Feb 25, 2013, 14:28
Virginia State University catcher Demetrius Roach (left) tries to corral a high throw as Salem International’s Alex Kurth slides safely into home during the first inning of a non-conference game on Sunday in Ettrick. The Tigers won two of three in the triple-header (photo by Jacob Vaughan).
ETTRICK – Sunday was chock-full of impressive feats and milestones for the Virginia State University baseball team.
Sophomore Nick Christopher rang up eight hits in 11 at-bats, freshman Colton Gunn pitched a one-hit shutout and coach Merrill Morgan won his 200th game during a non-conference triple-header against Salem International.
But the biggest curve ball came from the visiting Tigers. SIU carried a 26-game losing streak that predated the tenure of first-year coach Shawn Pynn into the series. The Tigers left Ettrick with their first winning streak under Pynn’s direction.
After falling 1-0 in Game 1, SIU prevailed 2-1 and 7-6 in Games 2 and 3, respectively.
“It’s nice for these guys to get the taste of victory in their mouths, especially after a four-win season last year,” Pynn said. “We’re already halfway to that win total.”
In Game 1, Gunn – a graduate of Dinwiddie High School – had a perfect game going into the seventh inning of his third career start for the Trojans. SIU second baseman David Belliveau spoiled the no-hitter with a single to right-center field in his only at-bat of the opener.
“He buckled down and did his job,” Gunn said. “You can’t get mad when somebody does their job.”
Gunn rebounded to finish his work on the mound.
William Tapp’s second-inning breakthrough provided all the run support the aptly named hurler needed. Gunn racked up six strikeouts en route to his second win of the season.
The hard-throwing right-hander needs 198 more to catch up to his veteran coach.
“I almost won my 200th with a perfect game, that would’ve been awesome,” Morgan said. “But we got a shutout for it, and Colton threw a whale of a game.”
Christopher followed suit by providing another pitching gem in Game 2, but SIU turned a second-inning throwing error into a 2-0 lead it would never relinquish. Christopher halved the deficit with a solo home run in the third, but VSU couldn’t draw level.
The Trojans outhit the Tigers 9-5 but stranded eight baserunners, including two in the final inning.
“We just have to put some hits together,” Morgan said. “We’re swinging the bats well – we usually get seven or eight hits a game – but we’re not putting them together.”
The theme of costly miscues persisted in Game 3.
The Tigers plated all seven of their runs in the top half of the opening frame, a barrage that began with Scott Schlapinski’s two-run double to left field. Tapp’s first pitching start of the season ended after five at-bats with the bases loaded and the home team trailing 2-0.
David Fitzgerald came on in relief and eventually guided the Trojans out of the jam, but not before conceding two hits and five more runs.
“Their pitchers had some control issues to start the game and our guys did a good job on the bases to take advantage,” Pynn said. “It rattled them a little bit.”
Fitzgerald – a former Thomas Dale standout – found his form in the second, and the shell-shocked Trojans hoisted themselves back in contention with a 6-0 rally over the next six innings.
Colonial Heights native Josh Markins notched an RBI double in the first and Christopher scored on a fielder’s choice in the third to reduce the gap to 7-2. VSU tacked on three more runs in the fourth, two of which came when Christopher smashed a line-drive double down the third-base line.
“The team battled back and showed a lot of resiliency,” Morgan said. “I like that. They’re going to be fine. Going down 7-0, we could’ve hung our head and let them roll over us.”
Christopher collected his third RBI of the game in the sixth to reduce the deficit to a single run. But the 6-foot-1 second baseman was tagged out trying to turn a double into a triple, and the Trojans’ comeback bid fell painfully short.
Fitzgerald rebounded nicely from the early-game turbulence, allowing just three hits in the final six innings of his third collegiate appearance. He struck out six batters and escaped a bases-loaded jam in the fourth without allowing a run.
“He made some nasty pitches,” Morgan said. “He’s going to be a good pitcher for us.”
Unfortunately for VSU, Taylor Palermo mirrored Fitzgerald’s poise in the seventh.
The left-handed SIU reliever retired all four of the batters he faced and needed only 13 pitches to navigate his way through the Trojans’ fourth, fifth and sixth hitters in the final frame.
“He’s been that way all year,” Pynn said. “In three or four appearances, I think he’s only thrown about 60 pitches. He’s been that efficient.”
The consecutive losses relegated VSU to a record of 4-5. The Trojans have dropped five of their last six, but Morgan said he is confident the team will rediscover its winning ways when CIAA conference play kicks off next weekend.
“Nick Christopher is really swinging the bat well,” Morgan said. “That’s big for us. If he can pitch and hit like that, we’ll be fine.”