Pitching, Timely Hitting Lead VSU To Sweep Of WSSU
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 9, 2014, 19:45
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
ETTRICK — After rolling to their best start in the last 11 years, Virginia State University's baseball team faced a critical litmus test in fellow conference foe Winston-Salem State Sunday afternoon.
The back-to-back Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association champions entered the game on a season-high 10-game winning-streak while defeating opponents by an average margin of victory of 6.5 runs per game. It was why the Trojans knew their point of emphasis would be on their pitchers to keep the Rams' potent offense off the board.
And the Trojans received exactly what they needed from both of their starters who went a combined 13 2/3 innings while surrendering just five runs on 15 hits. Couple the solid pitching with timely hitting in clutch situations and it all added up to a double-header sweep for Virginia State.
The tone of the doubleheader was set all the way in the bottom of the first inning as the Trojans' Zach Jordan drew a walk which would eventually start a rally. Josh Markins took a first-pitch strike from Winston-Salem State pitcher Jordan Carlton before unleashing on an outside fastball to rope a single into center field.
Then, Percy Evans worked the count to a 3-1 pitch before turning on an inside fastball which was laced toward the third baseman who bobbled it and allowed one run to score. The Trojans would add two more runs on a Cole Tapp opposite-field single to end the damage.
And while Virginia State starting pitcher Colton Gunn did not have his best stuff — his location was off, breaking-ball didn't have much bite, and he labored through much of the game — he did battle to keep his team ahead for much of the contest.
"He battled," Trojans manager Merrill Morgan said following the games. "I thought we got those three runs in the first inning and it kind of set the tone for us. It gave us confidence that we could play with these guys."
The Trojans (12-5) did more than just prove to themselves they could play against them, but made a statement as well.
While the Rams (11-7) seemingly had Gunn on the ropes in the third inning after a single and an error gave them two runners on and just one out, it was Virginia State's Nick Christopher making the play of the day. The Trojans shortstop eyed a fast-moving grounder up the middle off the bat of Levi Grassley, sprawled himself across the dirt before quickly touching second base for a force and spinning around to gun down another runner at third to complete a 6-6-5 double-play.
Morgan said it was just another example of the impact Christopher has on games.
"Nick has made some incredible plays all year," he said of the shortstop. "He's come up with two-out hits, so he's been really good for us."
But so has the coaching.
With Virginia State held hitless for four consecutive innings and the Rams having tied the game, Morgan knew his team needed a spark. Nathan Anger pinch-hit for Gunn — he was pulled after throwing 5 2/3, walking four, striking out two, and surrendering three runs — in the bottom of the sixth and was immediately plunked, opening the chance for some strategy.
Both David Markins and Jamison Griffin squared to bunt down the third base line and instead of being thrown out, they found themselves the recipients of base-hits. Then, Christopher and Josh Markins connected for base-hits themselves to jump-start a four-run inning to grab a 7-3 win in the opening game.
"Most of the time, it's the little things that win the game," Morgan said of the small-ball tactic. "I was very proud when they came through and executed those bunts."
Yet, in the second game it both started and ended with the pitching performance by Jordan.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
The right-hander twirled a complete-game effort on just 85 pitches, striking out three, walking one while scattering 10 hits and allowing just two runs. It was made all the more impressive by the way he went to work.
Jordan pounded the zone to entice early swings in the count and read the swings of each hitter who stepped into the box to determine whether to add or take off speed on both his curve-ball and fastball. But Jordan didn't just control the game on the hill, but at the plate as well, going a combined 2-for-5 with one RBI on the night.
"He's big," Christopher said of Jordan. "He's smart on the mound. He's done it for so long and he makes the right pitches at the right time. When he needs to come up with a big pitch, he get it done. Just a clutch player."
Christopher might of well been discussing his team as a whole and not just one particular player as being clutch because whenever the situation dictated for a big hit or a defensive play, the Trojans found a way.
It's part of a winning mindset which has been discussed since the opening of the season and has only grown with every victory.
Winning is contagious and as Virginia State rides a six-game winning-streak, the confidence they are building will only serve them well as the season moves forward.