The Diamond Dogs rebounded from a rough first full week of the 2014 season by routing the visitors from Maryland, and getting back over break-even at 5-4. The Mountaineers are 2-2 going into Wednesday’s scheduled second game, which is in some question now for weather.
Tuesday conditions were just fine for the afternoon start, as was Heck himself. Signed out of junior college specifically to contest for the open shortstop spot, he’d barely touched Dudy Noble Field for real up to then. Not that he let it get to him, he said.
“We always talk about we have so much depth on the team and everyone is going to get their turn and everyone has a different thing they can contribute to the team and help us to win ball games,” he said. Heck did that Tuesday. In his first senior college start he drove in one run, scored himself, reached again on a walk, and accounted for five of his team’s 15 assists.
“He had an opportunity and he made the most of it,” Coach John Cohen said. “That bodes well for him. For whatever reason we kept trying to piece together the right time for him to go out and have a start. I thought this was the right time, and he had a great outing.”
Far from the only one, to be sure. No less than 16 Bulldogs got to play the field and pick up a bat. Nine of them garnered at least one safety, with the best output from a Garner. Designated hitter Daniel Garner was 2-of-4 for three RBI and a run, as State totaled 13 hits for as many runner driven in. And nine went un-scored, right at the team’s average on the young season.
The difference this time was hitting that not only came at right times but in bunches. The biggest of which was a seven-hit and seven-run fourth frame to blow everything open. And, to give starter Ben Bracewell much more support than he really needed.
The senior righthander made his second ‘quality’ start so far by working a complete seven innings with six hits. Only one runner scored off Bracewell (2-0) and just one other walked, as he posted a career-best eight strikeouts. He’d come in with nine Ks in his first two stints combined.
Bracewell said the key was “A lot of fastballs early. I like to really pound the zone and try to get ahead early and get them in swing mode. It opens the door for the off-speed stuff later.” Which left several Mounties looking at third strikes unable to swing. And after last week’s struggles in the field, the Dog defense supported Bracewell and a pair of relievers with errorless work.
“Benny certainly led the way,” Cohen said. “I think he was 22 for 28 first-pitch strikes. He had more punchouts in this ball game. I thought (starter) Zack Randolph did a nice job behind the plate today and Cody Walker came in and did a really job, he had really good tempo when he entered the game. Those are things that are important to us.”
Offense was obviously important, maybe more so for club confidence. The first inning looked too frustratingly familiar as three Dogs reached but none scored. However it was a do-or-don’t stab by the MSM first baseman to rob CF C.T. Bradford that kept at least one run off the board, because the contact was there. It also showed Mountie Kevin Myers could be tagged.
An out into the second inning RF Demarcus Henderson walked on full-count and was stealing mid-count. He not only made it into second under a high throw, the ball went off the second baseman’s glove far enough to take another base. So in his third college at-bat, Heck flew far enough to rightfield for Henderson to easily outrun a throw for the 1-0 lead.
It didn’t last long. Zach Call led off MSM’s third with a bunt single and with one out got to second base on a grounder too slow for turning two. #3 batter Ryan Owens made it matter with a shot up the middle for the RBI base hit.
But the Bulldogs came back immediately with a second sacrifice-fly score. This one also had some help, as LF Jake Vickerson singled his way on and was balked-over to second base. A grounder by Bradford put him on third to score as 1B Wes Rea drove the first Myers pitch to the rightfield track for the 2-1 lead.
Any offensive concerns for Tuesday were settled in the fourth and in a big way. With full-count Garner was nailed in the shoulder. 3B Alex Detz was robbed on a fine stab by first baseman Andrew Frazier of the short-hop with Garner making second safely. Henderson dumped the ball to the left side and got to base just ahead of the throw, which pulled Frazier off anyway. The ump ruled an out which had Cohen protesting, and after group discussion, the call was reversed with Henderson safe at first. And, the Mounties changing pitchers.
Lefthander Jordan Lawson stepped into bigger trouble, walking Heck on to load the bases. Randolph got the third sac-fly run of the day, scoring Garner. That left an out for MSM to get, and it would take seven more batters before it came. The first six would all single, and each hit produced a RBI. Vickerson got it going with a fly ball fading into rightfield scoring Henderson.
That was followed by Bradford (Heck), Rea (Vickerson), Pirtle (Bradford), Garner again (Rea), and Detz (Pirtle). A Henderson bouncer finally ended the inning with a 9-1 lead.
“Hitting is contagious,” said Heck, quoting a former State skipper. “That proves it right there. To get that big hit with runners in scoring position and then boom, six hits in a row!”
MSM tried trimming that deficit in the seventh as Bracewell put Chris Del Vecchio on via plunking. Call lashed a double into the leftfield corner and Del Vecchio was waved around from first. New LF Jacob Robson delivered to shortstop Heck and the relay was on target and in time to C Cody Walker for the out.
Lawson was mercifully lifted after the stretch, though righty Ben Smallenbroek wasn’t a big improvement. Consecutive walks of Walker and RF Cody Brown , and a one-out pass of Matt Britton loaded the bases. Smallenbroek’s last pitch of the evening drilled 2B Kyle Hann in the helmet for a run.
And a change with Zach Hurts inheriting the bases-loaded, one-out mess. His bad luck was facing Garner first, as the designated Dog lined a double to rightfield for a 12-1 scoreboard. Detz added another run with a grounder to first base that plated Hann.
RHP Zac Houston took over the 13-1 lead for the eighth inning and LHP Lucas Laster the ninth, with no hits and a Houston strikeout to show for flawless short stints.
Starting with Garner in the five-slot, the second half of State’s order totaled six hits and seven RBI while scoring five times. “It’s always good when you can get some production out of the bottom of the order,” said Heck, who hit eighth. “Our three and four hitters are usually your guys and the ones you want producing your runs. But when you can get production out of the bottom of your order that’s when you know you’ve got it going good.”
Or good for at least this game. Scoring double-digit runs is a tough bar to set, but the timing and consistency of swinging was marked progress. “That’s what our team really needed,” Bracewell said. “Come out and put a lot of runs on the board, play defensively sound. And 13-1, that’s exactly what we wanted to see when we came out here.”
“Our kids needed a night like tonight to feel good and feel things are going our way,” said Cohen.
What the coach needed afterwards was advice from the weatherman. Wednesday shows no rain chance, but the cold air is back South again and the wind is predicted to pick up. A lot. Cohen doesn’t want to send the Mounties back to Maryland after just one game, but…
“I don’t want 35 guys in our dugout who are having a tougher time staying warm than trying to perform. So we’ll look at this hard tonight and make a great decision. We still have a lot we need to get done on the field but at the same time we have a whole season if we don’t play tomorrow to make up for it.”