By Alexander Haynes
After several weekends of suffering from incongruent hitting, complacent at-bats, and late swings in the dirt, the Bobcat baseball team finally arrived into this weekend’s play with a resilient determination to bounce their way back into competition. Sweeping Georgia State was the only option to find a competitive groove in the 2018 season. Extra innings and the batting lineup being surprisingly resilient on the day was needed but a sweep is exactly what Texas State got. Advancing to 8-7 in Sun Belt play, and 20-15-1, the Bobcats have started their journey through crunch time of the season with a statement.
Comeback Then Let Down Then A Win
Friday’s game beginning in sunny weather overshadowing the Georgia ball field was a sharp contrast to the swing of misery both teams would endure over the game. Previous games have been heart-wrenching, yet this game was a whole new level of back and forth challenges.
It was apropos the Bobcats opened the scoring in the fourth inning by accomplishing the one aspect of their game they have been unable to accomplish all season: simple singles. Jaylen Hubbard singling to center field came at the back of three innings with singular hits, leading to the feeling only time was holding the batting lineup back from exploding.
Hubbard complemented his single with a steal, setting up a scoring play for Jared Huber. Huber took full advantage of the play, rocketing a double. Dalton Shuffield, Jacob Almendarez, Derek Scheible, Jonathan Ortega, and Ryan Newman all followed with singles that scored runners, opening the game to a 5-0 lead. Hubbard ironically popped a fly out to end the inning. No matter, the top of the fourth was an inning the team needed to simply feel what it was like to set up plays.
Connor Reich starting the game with urgency was a message of confidence to the team, and by all extensions, the Bobcat pitchers have done a remarkable job setting the tone; a lack of execution has followed. Reich lasted 6.1 innings before giving up two runs and earning two more after Kyle Braford allowed the base erosion to take the score within one for a 6-5 Bobcat lead.
For security purposes (and for necessity as the future would dictate) wild pitching and walks allowed the Bobcats to score three more runs in the top of eight thanks to Hubbard’s double to the opposite field. The batting enthusiasm continued in the top of nine after Ortega received an RBI, scoring Almendarez on another successful play derived from their own doing opposed to the mistakes of others.
However, heartbreak was soon the storyline for the Bobcats. With Cam Baird pitching the 10-5 lead churned into a 10-8 bottom of the ninth. The Panthers rally was from an overwhelming amount of Baird’s pitches being balls, pitching as if scared to grace the strike zone.
Braden Pearson came in to close the ninth with all the pressure of the season on him. Fortunately, he forced a double-play ground out on the second batter before lack of control allowed another hit. Brayden Theriot ended the rally after two pitches ended in an anticlimactic groundout. Despite the 10-9 win, the Bobcats escaped what could have been a season destroying loss.
Extra Inning Shenanigans
Looking at a 10-5 win in the box score and then seeing it was an 11-inning, tightly fought game are two confusing points of contention. No matter, the Bobcats took their singles late, better than never, and with a jovial relaxing note much needed for the second game of the double header series.
The first score of the afternoon came in the top of the third after Hubbard walked and Newman sent him to third on a double. Dylan Paul finished the play with a sacrifice fly; another incidence of play establishment the Bobcats rarely saw earlier in the season. Unfortunately, the Panthers too would set up their own play to tie the game 1-1 in bottom of the third.
A sharp and astute mentality kept the Bobcats in the game, notated at the top of the sixth when Scheible singled, stole second, then scrambled to third on a throwing error. A walk from Huber sent the Panthers searching through their bullpen. By the end of the damaging top of six, the Bobcats were jumping back with a 3-1 lead.
However, the bottom of eight and nine were a journey through tiresome pitching. Zachary Leigh began the eighth inning, but soon was pulled after a long day. His pitching style uses more dynamic pitches, making surviving seven innings a major accomplishment.
Reliever Anthony Pagano began pitching straight away strikes, which turned into straight away singles. Fielding sluggishness and steals gave extra bases room enough for the Panthers to come within one by the end of eight, then tie the game at five in the ninth.
Both teams had ‘almost’ 10th innings based on stealing and establishing plays. Baseball was playing its full width of emotions in the game. Then came the top of 11. After Luke Sherley lead off with a single, Hubbard followed suit, letting Sherley score from second. It was Newman’s crafty bunt which advanced Sherley, and subsequent craftiness from the remaining Bobcat batters in walks, allowing themselves to be hit, and advantageous singles which poured on four more runs to take the dominating 10-5 lead, and the proverbial win.
The life had been sucked from the Panthers as Pearson forced three batters down in quick succession with a ground out and two strikeouts.
Reigning in Hits
The 11th inning was a telling sign for the next game. The Bobcats had found a stride and despite the long game just played, broke into the second game of the double header with immediate scoring. Sherley singled in the top of the first and just as the game before, was advanced to second on a sacrifice ground out from Newman. Hubbard pulled a pull to deep left field, allowing Sherley to use agility to score.
Wes Engle starting in the first, however, gave up walks. His pitching performance was a sour and abbreviated note, walking seven batters in three innings of his pitching. He did, however, only allow two runs. A crew of Broce Bosse and Bradford would close out the game, throwing four and five strikeouts respectively with only walk. Intimidating and prose pitching devastated an aggravated Panthers lineup.
Meanwhile, Sherley, Newman, and Hubbard continued to reign on the weekend by raining in hits. Even Schieble joined in the verbatim by racketing a long homerun over the center field wall. The shots were falling deep into outfield, resulting in several extra base hits. Ortega and Shuffield each had two walks a piece, providing a chance for those hits to turn into runs. Nothing the Panthers pitching staff could do was enough to stop the scoring foray as the Bobcats won 9-3, never looking back.
Hopefully for the Bobcats, they will not look back from this series. The team travels to Texas A&M for a Tuesday showdown before returning home to defend Bobcat Ballpark against South Alabama; a series which must be won to make April a month to remember.
Featured image by Marina Bustillo-Mendoza.