By Dennis Atwood - firstname.lastname@example.org
WINCHESTER -- The Virginia Wesleyan Marlins visited Bridgeforth Field Saturday afternoon and split an Old Dominion Athletic Conference baseball doubleheader with the Shenandoah Hornets in rare -- this year -- pleasant spring sports weather.
In sunny, low-50's, slightly breezy conditions, the Hornets won the first game, 1-0, by employing a body, not a bat, to drive in the winning run, and two exceptionally tall Marlins had extensive success, as their 6-foot-6 No. 8 batter started the day with a .133 average and ended at .318, and the 6-foot-7 second game starter expended 124 pitches in a complete game, 3-2, win.
In the opener, Marlins starter Dylan Stoskus needed only 31 pitches to set down the first nine Hornets in order.
Corbin Lucas led off the game by reaching on an error by shortstop Brett Sutryk, but was erased from the basepaths when J.J. McDaniel chopped a two-hopper that came down at second base, enabling Sutryk to atone for his error by stepping on the bag to begin a double play.
Lucas (2-for-4) did better by leading off the Hornets' fourth with a shot down the third-base line for his fifth double of the year, and Shenandoah's only extra-base hit of the game. But McDaniel, again, sent Lucas to the dugout with a too-firm bunt attempt that Stoskus picked up and tossed to third, where Lucas was tagged out.
McDaniel advanced to second on Andrew Creamer's groundout and Stoskus made his own trouble by walking Dan Powers and Mikey Paul to load the bases.
Billy Arens then used his back, not his bat, as Stoskus plunked him with a pitch to push McDaniel home with the game's only run.
Nick Beall then flied out as the Hornets left the bases loaded.
Danny Freshley led off the Shenandoah fifth and was hit by Stoskus' first pitch, moved to second on John Wilt's sacrifice bunt, and to third on Lucas' single to shallow center field.
But those two runners in scoring position were stranded when Stoskus retired McDaniel on a come-backer, and struck out Creamer.
The Hornets' last scoring attempt came in the sixth, when Freshley lashed a two-out single to left that kicked off third baseman Josh Miller's glove and was picked up by charging left fielder Jordan Miller, who gunned down Mikey Paul at the plate, trying to score from second base.
Shenandoah freshman righty Philip Morse was sharp early, getting first-pitch strikes on 12 of the first 14 batters he faced.
Morse shut out the Marlins over 5 1/3 innings, getting touched for five hits, a walk, and a hit batter, and improved to 3-3 with the win.
"I was trying to get first-pitch strikes, trying to get ahead of the batters, mostly," Morse said.
"Early in the game, I was pleased with my location, late in the game I was starting to get a little bit tired. That's when I relied on my defense. Our defense played really well today. I'm just glad we got the 'W.'"
Freshman left-hander Michael Scimanico relieved Morse and no-hit the Marlins over the next 3 2/3 to earn his second save.
The Marlins' No. 8 batter, sophomore first baseman Casey King, entered the game hitting .133 (2-for-15), but hit on-the-nose doubles to left and right for Virginia Wesleyan's only extra-base hits before Scimanico struck him out, looking , in the seventh.
Stoskus (2-5) worked a complete game in taking the loss, in spite of giving up only four hits.
In the second game, the Marlins repeated the complete-game strategy, this time with success, as lefty Alex Tucci was able to deliver 124 pitches through nine innings for a 3-2 victory, evening his record at 3-3.
Tucci, employing off-speed stuff for about half of his pitches, surrendered two runs (one earned), on six hits (two doubles), struck out seven, walked two and hit a batter. Tucci ended his outing by striking out Hornets shortstop Billy Arens on three pitches.
"This was my third complete game of the year," Tucci said. "I have a slider, a straight change, and a split-finger [as off-speed pitches].
"We're struggling, losing a lot of one-run and two-run games. As soon as we can get over that hump and start pushing across those extra runs, we'll be a really great team."
King continued his hot hitting, going 3-for-4, including his third double of the day, and added a run and an RBI to complete a 5-for-7 afternoon.
They were only King's 10th and 11th games, out the 25 the Marlins (7-18, 4-7 ODAC) have played.
"It feels pretty good," King said. "I've been working on my swing every day and it's finally coming together.
"I just kinda' went back to the basics. I was trying to rush before and I just told myself to relax and just see the ball, hit the ball."
Additional three-hit production for the Marlins was provided by center fielder Kenneth Belgrave (3-for-4, all singles to left), and third baseman Josh Miller (3-for-4, 1 run).
Lucas (1-fo-3) drove in both of the Hornets' runs, with a two-out single to right, plating McDaniel after he had doubled to lead off the third, and a two-out sacrifice fly to left in the seventh, enabling McDaniel to cash-in from reaching on a lead-off error.
Sophomore righty starting pitcher T.J. Campbell made his first appearance on the mound for Shenandoah (15-6, 8-5 ODAC). He worked six innings, gave up three earned runs on nine hits, recorded a strikeout, a walk, and a balk and was charged with the loss.
The Hornets left a combined 13 runners on base in scoring position in the two games.
"The guys are giving us a tremendous effort ," Hornets coach Kevin Anderson said. "It's my fault, probably, for not practicing situation hitting enough. So I'll take full responsibility for our lack of execution. We'll make sure we get that into our practice schedule.
"We've been banged up on the mound. We've had a lot of young guys step up. Today, with Phil [Morse] and Mike [Scimanico] both freshmen, pitching out of some jams -- that was just a phenomenal performance. We need to carry our effort over into our execution. If we do that, we'll be fine."
Shenandoah retained tenuous hold on second place, three games behind 9-0 Bridgewater, with seven conference games remaining, and three other five-loss teams nipping at their heels in the 12-team ODAC.