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Monday Blog: Gray in the clutch, bullpen steps up, more

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You have reached the Monday Morning Blog.

Following each conference baseball series, I’ll offer my thoughts from the weekend, as well as touching on other behind the scenes notes in APSU baseball. This weekend, the Govs hosted Eastern Kentucky in a three-game series at Raymond C. Hand Park from Friday, April 25 to Sunday, April 27.

APSU won the first two games with scores of 6-5 and 13-9, but fell 7-6 in Game 3.

For a full recap on each game, click the links below:

Gray overcomes to help Govs walk-off over EKU

APSU offense catches fire in series win over Colonels

EKU’s four homers haunt Govs in loss

Even a brutal illness couldn’t stop Logan Gray

It had been six days since Logan Gray stepped on a baseball field as the shortstop fell victim to the illness that impacted a number of players on the team.

Gray had been on IVs and medicine throughout the week, and didn’t attend practice at all which put his status for Friday up in the air. He was able to go to class on Thursday and Friday, but the energy level wasn’t there to put his cleats on.

However, once he got some food and nutrients in his body early in the day Friday, Gray was in the lineup and didn’t skip a beat at the plate.

“He almost didn’t play tonight. It was a last second decision,” APSU head coach Gary McClure said. “I’m really proud of him. He got two huge hits, and hung in there to make a big impact.”

Defensively, he was rusty as he committed an error on the first play of the game, and made another blunder the following inning. Once the rust shook off, Gray made up for it with two clutch hits that helped the Govs win Game 1.

The freshman tied the game in the seventh with a RBI single, and came through with another staring down two outs in the bottom of the ninth, knotting the score at 5-5. He would later score on a wild pitch to give APSU the win in walk-off fashion.

“I just went up there and didn’t try to do too much,” Gray said. “That’s kind of my down fall when I get in those situations. I knew he (Anthony Bazzani) was a pretty good pitcher with velo (velocity) and I just kept my swing short, and relaxed up there to not get too nervous.”

In Game 2, Gray would drive in the eventual game-winning runs with a two-run homer — his sixth of the season — to finish off a 3-for-4 day at the plate.

Robles masterful with 13 strikeouts

Alex Robles, you get your own section again.

The freshman right-hander followed his complete game one-hitter against Belmont last weekend with another masterful outing against the Colonels. He was human in the sense he allowed four runs, although just one of them were earned, on four hits, but it was his strikeout total that was eye-popping.

“Do you know how many strikeouts you had?” I asked Robles after the game.

(Obviously, I assumed he didn’t know, but I wanted to hear his reaction.)

“Thirteen,” I answered.

“Oh, nice. I was hoping like 28 or something,” he said jokingly.

Before his start at Belmont where he recorded nine strikeouts in nine innings, the highest total Robles had was six. On Friday, Robles struck out two batters in every inning except for one, and set a new career-high that will obviously be difficult to top this season.

But if you know Robles, he’s never satisfied. Even though he was joking around after seeing his team walk-off with a win, I know deep down he wasn’t thrilled with his outing. He doesn’t have to be marvelous every time out though. Robles is going to go at least six innings barring a major setback as he has done it in every start excluding his first two times this season.

Here’s a stat I love: In his 71.1 innings on the mound, Robles has had zero wild pitches. I’d say he’s pounding the zone pretty effectively.

Offense steady all weekend

Seventeen hits in three games against a poor hitting team like Belmont is something you can get away with. But with EKU, who sits at second in conference with 32 home runs in town, the APSU offense had to catch fire.

The Govs racked up double-digit hit totals in each game, finishing with 38 on the weekend. Now that’s more like it.

I already touched on Gray, but nobody swung the bat better than Ridge Smith.

Smith went 6-for-11 combined in the three games, three of which being extra-base hits, and drove in four runs. In Game 3 in particular, Smith found a home in the left field corner as he ripped two balls there, with one of them leading to a triple.

“My approach was good,” Smith said. “I worked on really waiting on the ball and stayed back more, and it helped me a lot because I was still out in front of one or two balls that I hit. But I was able to stay back enough to keep them fair.”

He now leads the team in doubles (12), RBIs (36), and total bases (80).

Cayce Bredlau had a nice weekend hitting in the two hole by going 6-for-13, while a pair of seniors — P.J. Torres and Matt Wollenzin — were productive. Torres went 3-for-4 in Game 3, and in fact, didn’t go down on strikes in his 12 at-bats over three games. That will definitely boost his confidence after having the most in the OVC for quite a while.

As for Wollenzin, he is making strides offensively despite being used in a limited role. But any time there is a right-hander on the mound, he’ll likely be in the DH spot, and had a break out game on Saturday by going 2-for-4 with a homer.

“It felt really good,” Wollenzin said. “I was really confident going up there. I’ve been working really hard lately and it paid off. I mean, it’s not going to happen every time especially in limited opportunities, but you have to build your own confidence in the cage.”

Despite injuries, bullpen steps up

Normally when APSU fails to sweep a three-game series, the blame falls on the bullpen. Just look back at last weekend. However, I can’t say enough good things about how well the bullpen pitching against EKU.

Once the starters exited all three games, relievers limited the Colonels in one of the best overall weekends for them I’d say.

When you combine all eight relief appearances, the bullpen allowed just seven hits in three games. I feel like that factor is being overshadowed. Sure, there were some walks given up, but their efforts played a key role, especially in Games 2 and 3.

A.J. Gaura was the only pitcher to appear in two different games (Friday and Saturday), and was handed the win in Game 1.

As for Game 2, starter Jared Carkuff couldn’t find the strike zone with five walks in a rough outing, yet guys like Jake Corum and Levi Primasing picked him up once the offense came back to take the lead. The same can be said about Game 3 as Alex Belew fell victim to giving up four home runs. Caleb Powell and Ryan Quick came on to shut EKU down to zeros, with just one hit, in the final four and two-thirds innings.

“We couldn’t ask our bullpen to do a better job than they did today, “McClure said following Sunday’s game.

It’s pretty impressive once you consider all that has happened to this pitching staff. With both Zach Hall and Kacy Kemmer having Tommy John Surgery at the same time earlier in the season, the Govs were without their two most-experienced pitchers. Not to mention the fact you have two guys on the roster — Hunter Lindley and Jack Cleary — who are sitting out a year.

To make matters worse, right-hander Caleb DeLee is out for the year after McClure confirmed that he had labrum surgery days ago.

This becomes a problem for McClure as said he doesn’t want to overuse pitchers, and it isn’t exactly a good time to have two mid-week games coming up.

Things I liked

  • When Bryan Soloman left Raymond C. Hand for the final time. That guy killed the Govs this weekend (8-for-15, seven RBIs)
  • When manager Mike Burns brought third baseman Kevin Corey water after he was took a hard grounder off his chest. How sweet.
  • Robles getting nine strikeouts in four and two-thirds inning on Friday. Crazy.
  • Pinch-hitter Griffin Ganick putting APSU on the board with a sacrifice fly in the seventh on Friday. Two RBIs on the season, but still waiting on that first hit to come.
  • Another catcher’s interfere call with Wollenzin at the plate. If you’re keeping score at home, that’s now three this season.
  • Rolando Gautier with five hits out of the three hole for the weekend.
  • Smith throwing a bullet to the plate on Saturday to nail a runner trying to score from third. Sometimes he’s too aggressive, but with an arm like that, you gotta let it loose.
  • A gold star diving catch by Bredlau in center field. Very nice play.
  • Torres increasing his stolen base total to six. Speedster.
  • The overall aggressiveness by the Govs on the base paths, executing a big double steal in Game 3 to move the runners over.
  • A nifty 1-6-3 double play started by Quick in the top of the ninth on Sunday as he corralled a sharp grounder on the mound.

My dislike

photo

This.

Let me explain.

So Ridge Smith is at the plate, and I walked into the press box after taking some pictures. I sat down at my — well, Luke Thompson’s seat as he was out of town — and the next thing I know I hear a thud and the sound of glass breaking. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to witness it with my own eyes, but apparently a pitch ricocheted off Smith’s helmet, somehow came over the large net behind home plate, and took out the window.

Thankfully Luke wasn’t there for this, because the window pictured above is the one I normally look out. If I had been sitting there, the window would be up considering it was a warm day, and honestly, my head would still be hurting as I type this right now.

Definitely the most bizarre thing I’ve seen at Raymond C. Hand Park, and there have been many to choose from.

Ohio Valley Conference standings

Southeast Missouri (29-14, 19-5 OVC)
Tennessee Tech (34-12, 16-8 OVC)
Jacksonville State (23-19, 12-9 OVC)
Morehead State (23-21, 11-10 OVC)
SIU-Edwardsville (15-26, 12-12 OVC)
Eastern Kentucky (21-23, 10-11 OVC)
Murray State (18-23, 10-11 OVC)
Austin Peay (18-26, 10-11 OVC)
Belmont (18-24-1, 8-12-1 OVC)
Eastern Illinois (14-28-1, 8-12-1 OVC)
UT Martin (6-34, 3-18 OVC)

‘Toppers and Raiders up next

Mid-week games against Western Kentucky and Middle Tennessee await the Govs. First pitch against WKU on Tuesday, April 29 at home will be 6 p.m., while the road contest in Murfreesboro on Wednesday, April 30 will begin at 6 p.m.

The next conference series will be at Morehead State, with Game 1 set for Friday, May 2 at 5 p.m.

Photo: Logan Gray (Corey Adams/The All State)

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