By Alexander Haynes
The Bobcats facing University of Louisiana-Monroe was as much about separating themselves in the Sun Belt conference for a resurgent April as it was about gaining team morale. The Warhawks and Bobcats matchup was a challenge to each team as the definitive series to play as a team benefiting one another. The series also presented the rare double-header, further notating the need for every member of the team to step up. In the end, the Warhawks came away with the series win, advancing toward a 6-5 Sun Belt record, while the Bobcats continue spiraling toward a 5-7 Sun Belt record. Saturday’s victory does end the hope of a comeback. Losing the double header on Sunday will force the Bobcats to dig themselves out of a massive mental and analytical hole.
Walking, Hitting, and Running
Saturday’s 8-2 victory was picturesque of how the team ought to approach every game. Connor Reich did what was necessary to put out opposing batters through 5.1 innings, while the batting lineup took full advantage of 10 hits and seven walks. The team was vicarious through both power, patience, and simple delight in the game.
The first inning did not begin with a grand note, but a tinkering of the piano. The Bobcats loaded the bases off a hit from Luke Sherley and two walks. However, Derek Scheible would strike out looking in a depressing at-bat that was another notation of batters left on-base. Reich also had a controversial first inning, allowing two singles, two steals, and then walking a batter to load the bases with two outs. His pitching was becoming dangerous when the Warhawks sent a single through right to score two-runs. Fortunately, a base running error resulted in an out at third, saving Reich from further trouble.
The second inning was another shot straight at Reich. He allowed a single, showing more worrisome placement. An attempted steal by Pierce Khan ended in futility, and possibly the out that Reich needed to become comfortable on the mound. His pitching never overtly changed, instead becoming more confident placement, forcing the needed ground outs. Arguably, it was the lucky bounce of the ball and inches that allowed Reich to stay clean despite the high-risk pitching. No matter, in the end, Reich was good enough for the day to secure the win.
On the batting side, Ryan Newman would be the first to punctuate on pitching over the strike zone. His homerun in the fourth was emblematic of the varying counts facing the team throughout the day; the goal was to force the Bobcats to swing poorly, demonstrated by a fly out and two strike outs following Newman.
The fifth inning knotted the game at 2-2 after walks became the prominent theme. Jacob Almendarez and Jonathan Ortega walked as the pitching zone fell outside. The game was now about base path aptitude. Almendarez would squander a chance to score, getting caught out at home. Newman would walk in an RBI, scoring Ortega, after infield errors and timeliness were outmatched by the Bobcats steadiness and agility.
If walks were not enough, hits carried the Bobcats one inning later. Mickey Scott stepped up with a lead-off single. The stage was now set as Ortega doubled to take the 4-2 lead. Dylan Paul and Sherley came through by taking the simple single. The slow singles were draining the Warhawks as errors and poor pitching piled up for the eventual 8-2 victory.
Double-Header, Game One
Heading into Sunday, the Bobcats were playing in a rare double-header a game flow where extra emphasis would be put on the focus from play to play. The Bobcats began with a rough first inning, but pitching from Wes Engle assisted them. Regardless, Engle is the type of pitcher who takes his innings in stride, walking almost as much as he pitches toward the strike zone (5.4 walks per nine innings; 6.3 strikeouts per nine innings). However, he never allows egregiously hittable pitches with no home runs allowed, and always plans to clean up the base path.
While Engle was crafty throughout the tenure of five innings, allowing only two hits and one run on five walks, the batting box was once again spinning in futility. The Bobcats initially tied the game 1-1 in the fourth after Sherley hit a double, followed by Newman walking. Scheible singled in Sherley for an RBI, but Scott popped a high ball just past the infield. Again, the 11-pitch battle was a good at-bat, but Scott was clearly hitting to go deep, opposed to being patient.
The same happened one inning later. Jared Huber attentively scored after a wild pitch provided him the opportunity, but the rest of the inning dissolved after walks and errors allowed batters on. There is an eagerness in the team that has assisted them on the base path, but is destroying them in the batter box.
Turner Francis hit a home run off Brayden Theriot in the bottom of eight to secure a 3-2 Warhawks victory. Dually frustrating, besides hitting a batter and the home run, Theriot was proficient, giving the batting a chance to win. However, they were too eager to take the first pitch. Even when 14 of 33 batters took a first pitch ball, the Bobcats still attempted to hit more fouls across the board. There are players who should spend their plate appearances fouling off pitches, but when the entire team does so, the result is what occurred Sunday.
Same Approach, Same Result
The second game of the double-header began on another anticipatory note, only to end in a puff of despair. Two singles in three pitches was changing the pace of the game, and it all ended in the next five pitches due to a fly-out and ground out– pitches taken too early. The remnant of the game was a repetition of that pattern with swings overwhelming the amount of balls taken. The analytical story is a team desperate to make contact and end their lack of consistency. Yet, with every batter batting the same way, the entire team is now a facsimile of the same swing, making the jobs of opposing pitchers easier.
Nicholas Fraze, Zachary Leigh and Cam Baird all got the job done on the afternoon. Fraze started the game, concluding his four innings with no hits and one walk. Leigh provided support and did not deteriorate until the eighth inning. The sole score of the game came in the eighth when a pitch from Leigh was left floating, ending as a double and RBI. Baird came in for the final out. However, pitching was not enough to secure the win as the Warhawks stole the second game of Sunday 1-0.
Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.