By Alexander Haynes
The month of April now has no error room for the Bobcat Baseball team after dropping two games in the closing series of March against the Little Rock Trojans. While their overall record stands at a decent 15-11, the 4-5 conference record and type of losses incurred are painting an indecisive picture. The tumultuous series was defining for the Bobcats’ bouncing nature in one aspect of the team being positive, the other being downcast and then flipping the narrative the next day. This weekend was the last chance to prove both sides of the ball can own a game from pitch-one through the ninth inning. Instead, the Trojans displayed a competitive strategy that rocked the Bobcats off their own idealism. On the encouraging side of matters, baseball can change radically on one hot-streak, and Saturday’s 10-6 victory might be a microcosm of success to extrapolate on.
Thursday’s game was one day removed from a devastating 1-6 loss to the Texas Longhorns; a game just as mentally defeating as statistically defeating. Heading into the series against Little Rock, the supposition was Connor Reich would outlast Chandler Fidel as Jonathan Ortega and Derek Scheible capitalized early and often before an austere Trojan bullpen arrived on the scene. That supposition, however, was overwhelmed by a chaotic defensive showing as the Bobcats were perceptually unfocused and analytically outwitted.
Reich lasted just the same six innings as Fidel, but gave up 11 hits, six runs and struck out five in seventy-five laborious pitches. Reich’s onus to pitch toward contact was allowing for the Trojans to capitalize with short-swings and jovial at-bats. No walks were necessary as the Trojans took every pitch to the zone far; analytically, the wonder is how the Trojans did not score more on their 11 hits.
In context, the game began with the zone-contact methodology surprisingly working – Reich struck out the latter two batters in inning one, forced ground outs in the second, but a hint of success was enough evidence for the lineup to score three in the third on their second trip through the lineup. The Trojans possess batters that are trained to tee-off upon recognizing the right pitch; a lack of variance from Reich combined with at-bats dragging from three to five or six pitches wore him down.
Fortunately, the Bobcat bullpen was advantageous in their lack of concise pitching. Kyle Bradford and Braden Pearson tossed 15 pitches to three batters and 27 pitches to six batters respectively. Hence, they pitched to set up strikeouts (Bradford with two) and ground-outs (Pearson with three); pitching for the out instead of purely the strikeout. The second lesson here is that a lack of familiarity with the pitcher was efficient in forcing the Trojans on their heels for the latter three innings of the game.
The three runs for the Bobcats were derived from Ortega and Scheible, a precise picture of what the Bobcats need to succeed in April. Ortega slammed a home run in the third after Schieble singled on one pitch. Later in the fifth, Jacob Almendarez got on base after bunting, providing the chance for Ortega to sacrifice fly for the RBI.
Much like the bullpen being a silver lining, Ortega’s establishment in the lineup was a much-needed note in the 3-6 loss.
Too Little, Too Late (Again)
For the fun silver linings on Thursday, there was equal poignant, new-found concerns discovered on Friday. The first three innings were not only bad, but profoundly devastating as Zachary Leigh spent 59 pitches while limping through 2.2 innings and six runs allowed. The batting lineup attempted to respond in the third, but produced only two runs until the seventh, remaining incongruent.
The downfall for Leigh began when Chase Coker rocketed a home run to deep left field in the first inning. Matt Merino chipped away with a single, but Leigh cleaned up his mistakes, resulting in only a 1-0 lead.
Home runs are one-pitch mistakes that can be overcome. However, a pattern of singles cannot be overcome, exactly how the Trojans scored another run in the second. They were displaying simple procedure, being even boring in their routine; a dooming proverb for the opposing pitcher slowly dissolving. The dissolving came in the third as Troy Alexander and Merino exemplified what pitches to swing at, and the remnant of the younger hitters followed suit. The rest of the six runs were repetitions of the first few.
Seth Jordan, Anthony Pagano and Brayden Theriot finished the game for the Bobcats. Jordan gave up two hits and one run in his 3.1 innings of pitching while striking out two. Again, a slight silver lining, but Jordan has evolved on the season, and like the day before, was controlling while not needing to pitch toward contact. The daring approach worked for Pagano and Theriot equally, foreshadowing the Saturday outing.
The batting lineup was rather un-daring, unable to focus on play creation with even four walks. At this point in the season, netting walks for production, while being theoretically virtuous, is not enough for the Bobcats to succeed. With only two hits coming the entire game, the 7-4 loss was amazing for not being 7-0.
The Trojans even posted three errors, giving the Bobcats a chance late. The batting rut is not from a lack of opportunity but a lack of foresight in swinging.
Getting Back to Winning Ways
Whatever lack of foresight happened on Friday was gone by Saturday as the Bobcats took their turn at chasing Ethan Daily, Justin Garcia, and five other Trojan pitchers around for 10 runs and 14 hits. Finally taking advantage of six walks, the Bobcats limited strike outs while hitting for velocity. Not only was the game refreshing but a major uplift on the last day of March, hopefully setting the tone for what must be a confident April.
Almendarez and Ortega walked to begin the game, followed closely by Ortega taking a risk in stealing with two-outs. Dylan Paul almost gave up the scoring chance by dropping his hit to the pitcher, but the confusion allowed Almendarez to score and Paul to double. The chaos continued in the third when Jared Huber walked, then advanced to second and third on a walk and wild pitch respectively. Almendarez put the exclamation point on the inning, tying the game at two with a sacrifice-fly RBI.
Luke Sherley and Scheible combined to walk and reach-base on a now drowning Daily, who allowed another run before Carter Brown arrived for relief duty. Brown, however, threw a wild pitch and allowed Paul to jaunt in from third, putting the Bobcats up 4-2.
The encouraging sign was the calm and fun approach the Bobcats had for their game, epitomized by Scheible’s and Jaylen Hubbard’s fifth inning home run. The 10 runs scored did not come from slight luck, but the batters taking advantage of the mistakes by playing baseball. They were having fun, lacking desperation and owning specific pitch types.
The 10-6 win was refreshing and a reminder of the potential for April. While a 4-5 Sun Belt record may be a slight hole to dig out of, relaxed batting is the method to begin the process of climbing out of said hole.
Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.