By MARLON SCOTT | Senior Staff Writer
The Govs welcomed the Valparaiso Crusaders to open their season at Raymond C. Hand field. The three-game series began on Friday, Feb. 18, featured several weather elements from delaying rain to high, ball-stealing winds.
However, when the sky cleared and bright sunshine warmed the field Sunday, Feb. 20, highlighted the grins of a Govs team who just finished sweeping the Crusaders in their first home series of the season, 3-0 (7-3, 11-10, 7-3). It took everything in the Govs’ arsenal to send the Crusaders back to Indiana winless. Govs’ fans got a full dose of solid pitching, strong defense and clutch hitting from their team over three days.
After three scoreless innings, the Govs’ offense came alive with 14 hits to overcome a two run deficit and win the first game 7-3. Freshman infielder Jordan Hankins led the team with four hits (2 RBIs) on his birthday. He was one of the eight different Govs who produced hits.
Sophomore first baseman John Hogan got things going with a big shot over the fence in the fourth inning. It was the first home run hit in a Govs season opener since 2005. “I thought our guys played hard. When we got down, we didn’t stress and continued to play hard,” said Govs head coach Gary McClure.
“Hogan got us started with that towering home run. That lifted our club up offensively and we started to see the ball better. I thought we did a great job at the plate.”
Senior pitcher Ryne Harper held the crusaders at bay while his offense rallied. In five innings of work, Harper struck out six and allowed only three runs from seven hits. Junior lefty reliever Jeremy Dobbs took over after Harper and picked up the win with 3.2 scoreless innings.
The second game went into extra innings. It came down to pitching depth and the Crusaders found out they had a shallow pool in their bullpen.
In the last three innings the Crusaders used four pitchers who walked nine and gave up seven runs on three hits. The result was a Govs 11-10 victory.
Govs sophomore outfielder Cody Hudson hit the game winning RBI. Freshman outfielder Rolando Gautier cranked out five hits including two doubles. “I was proud of how patient we were in the eighth. I told the guys we just have to peck away there. We didn’t have to get it all back at once,” McClure said. Junior pitcher Mike Hebert earned the victory. He allowed only one run in the last two innings. Senior lefty Jack Snodgrass got the start. He allowed one run from two hits in the first four innings.
“Jack was outstanding. He was on a pitch count because we’re going to take care of these guys early. It’s a long season,” McClure said. “He was dominating their hitters and I believe he would have for a couple more innings.”
An ugly first inning in the third game gave the Crusaders hope of going home with at least one game in the series. Govs freshman starting lefty Alex Belew watched the first three batters he faced get on base. The solid pitching sealed the Govs 7-3 win.
They eventually scored as eight batters got to the plate before the inning ended. However, those were the only three runs the Crusaders scored the rest of the game. Belew allowed only two base runners in the next four innings. After sophomore pitcher Zach Toney took over and retired the next 12 batters, not allowing any base runners.
“Alex and Zach really did a great job,” McClure said. “If you throw the way they threw and you play defense the way we did, you are going to win ball games, and that is what we did today.”
Belew picked up the win and Toney earned the first save of the season. While Belew and Toney shut down the Crusaders, the Govs were making sure Valparaiso’s Tyler Deetjen had a long day on the mound.
Eight of the nine Govs starters produced hits and five of them hit RBIs. The Govs produced 10 hits in the game.
Gautier had another party at the plate going two-for-four with two RBIs. Junior third baseman was the only other Gov with multiple hits. He finished two-for-five with one RBI.
The Govs will continue their home stretch this weekend by hosting the Riverview Inn Invitational.
Their first game of the tournament will be against Illinois State at 3 p.m., Friday, Feb. 25. TAS