VSU Baseball Off To Impressive Start
By Ryan Lazo, sports editor
Mar 16, 2014, 14:17
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
ETTRICK — Virginia State University's baseball team is off to their best start in 11 years with an emphasis on timely-hitting and clutch-pitching. Yet, their 13-6 start with a 7-3 mark in Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association was not expected from the league's coaches.
The league selected Winston-Salem State as the preseason favorite after the Rams captured their second-straight CIAA title by defeating Chowan in the championship last season. However, after almost a month of baseball it seems the Trojans were severely overlooked.
And all it took was winning three out of a four-game set over Winston-Salem State for those around the CIAA to understand the Trojans are not a fluke. Virginia State used top-flight pitching from Colton Gunn and Zach Johnson to sweep a Sunday doubleheader and capped it off with a Nick Christopher complete-game effort to salvage the final game of the Monday doubleheader.
While the wins made sure to continue the Trojans' run, it meant more to the mindset of the team which has slowly begun to exhibit a confidence level that can lead to a surprising season.
"He battled," Trojans manager Merrill Morgan said of Gunn's gutty performance. "I thought we got those three runs in the first inning and it kind of set the tone for us. It gave us the confidence that we could play with these guys."
In truth, Virginia State has proven they can play with anyone this season and it starts with their pitching staff.
Gunn, the staff-ace, is tied for most wins in the CIAA with four on the year while pitching to a 3.86 ERA and surrendering just 18 hits in 25.2 innings of work. He's followed in the rotation by Jordan who has twirled three complete-game efforts in four starts.
Additionally, Jordan's 2.08 ERA ranks four in the CIAA all together. It's the way Jordan pitches which makes his low ERA and domination on the mound all the more impressive. While most pitchers like to blow hitters away with heat, Jordan displays patience on the mound.
The right-hander likes to hit his spots while also changing the speeds of his breaking pitches. Against Winston-Salem, Jordan did a good job of adding and subtracting just enough to induce plenty of pop-outs and weak ground balls all game long.
"He's big," Christopher said of his teammate at the time. "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 gets it done. Just a clutch player."
But it's Christopher who should have been talking about himself being clutch.
For much of this season, it has been late base-hits from Christopher which have clinched the victory. In fact, he helped the Trojans score four runs in the bottom of the sixth inning against the Rams to pull ahead just one inning after they had tied the game.
Ryan Lazo/Hopewell News/News-Patriot
Yet, even though Christopher is currently holds the best batting average in the CIAA with a .439 average while roping 25 hits and driving in a team-leading 13 RBIs, he makes a difference in other places as well.
Christopher's diving play to his left at the shortstop position to grab a force at second before firing to third base for a double-play is just one example of the type of impact he has. But the junior also has come up big on the mound for the Trojans.
Christopher has pitched in three games this season — two of them starts in which he threw complete games in — while pitching to a 1.69 ERA which is good enough for third in the CIAA.
"Nick has made some incredible plays for us this year," Morgan said of his shortstop. "He's come up with two-out hits, so he's been really good."
Added Christopher of maintaining his hot-start, "You have to pick up a bat everyday. It's not one thing where you sit down, pick it up and you're going to be great at it again. You have to work at it and I just try to stay in the zone. When I get locked in, I stay locked in for a while."
But it's not just Christopher locked in, but his team as a whole.
The Trojans have a combined .288 average which ranks second in the conference as does their 5.41 team ERA while standing right behind the Rams of Winston-Salem. However, there is something different about this Virginia State team.
Take a few moments to be around them and there is a sense of brotherhood and a silent confidence of knowing someone will step up in a clutch situation. In fact, when they needed a rally to defeat the Rams, it was two bunt-hits which jump-started the four-run frame, bringing excitement to the dugout.
"We're just sticking together really well," Christopher said of the team chemistry. "At first we weren't really sticking together, but now we have seen what we can do and guys are coming up big ... We're just trying to keep building on it."
Virginia State may still have a few months left of their season, but if the first one is any indication, the success may continue deep into the playoffs.