JACKSONVILLE, Ala. – After giving up a five runs in two innings, the Northwestern State baseball team battled back and fell just short in the top of the ninth in a 6-4 loss at Jacksonville State Friday afternoon in the season opener.
NSU (0-1) opened the top of the ninth down 6-3 when shortstop Joel Atkinson was hit by a pitch. Jacksonville State replaced Michael Mason with All-American closer Travis Stout, who recorded 17 saves in the 2013 campaign.
Demon third baseman Chase Daughdrill forced a 3-2 count before he induced a fielder’s choice that forced Atkinson out at second. After Daughdrill advanced to second base on a wild pitch, Cort Brinson sent him to third base on a single to right field.
With a Demon on first and third base, newcomer Caleb Dugas singled through the left side to score Daughdrill and advance Brinson to second base. C.J. Webster, with a 1-2, followed Dugas with an unassisted double play to the first baseman to end the game.
“Webster absolutely crushed the ball but the 6-4 first baseman was able to get up and grab it. You can not hit the ball any harder,” said second year head coach Lane Burroughs. “Had Webster been able to get the ball by him it would’ve rolled to the wall and we would’ve been tied. That’s baseball though, he grabbed it and doubled up Dugas.”
The Demons scored the ball game’s first run in the fourth inning when Reagan Kaufman singled to centerfield to score Brinson from third base. Brinson reached when a pitch hit him, and Dugas laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance him to second before Webster singled through the left side to send him to third.
The Demons were hit by pitches five times, drew a walk once, and struck out five times.
“That is something we pride ourselves on. We don’t move our feet if the ball comes our way and it helped us draw more free passes than strikeouts,” said the skipper.
Jacksonville State answered in the bottom of the fourth to hang a four-spot and added another in the fifth.
Northwestern State answered back in the sixth, again with another leadoff hit-by-pitch. Daughdrill advanced on the free pass and scored when Brinson scorched the ball down the left field line on a 1-1 pitch. After Dugas singled and two outs later, Brinson scored on a 0-2 single up the middle from Edwin Gomez.
“We were tentative to start the game and really swung at some bad pitches,” said Burroughs. “We settled in and really started to play good baseball.”
JSU added an insurance run in the bottom of the sixth on a single through the left side from Griff Gordon to score Loera-Mora from second base.
Steven Spann (0-1) pitched four innings and allowed four runs on five hits in the loss. He walked three batters and struck out two. Adam Oller pitched one inning and allowed a run on one hit and a walk. Josh Morris pitched an inning and surrendered the last run on two hits with a strikeout.
Andrew Adams and Austin Tanner each threw an inning and allowed no runs. Adams had a strikeout and Tanner gave up one hit.
NSU’s three, four and five hitters in the order (Brinson, Dugas, and Webster) combined for six hits in 12 at-bats. Leadoff hitter Bret Underwood was 2-of-5 and Kaufman, Gomez, and Nathan Lyons added a hit apiece.
Taylor Shields (1-0) grabbed the win on five innings pitched with one run on three hits and a walk. Stout received the save on an innings with two hits.
The two teams will face each other tomorrow at 1 o’clock and finish the series 24 hours later. Left-hander Cody Butler will get the start on the mound for the Demons and Zach Fowler will oppose him.