Hornets top Blue Jays for eighth straight win to open season

Shenandoah University catcher Dan Cameron prepares to put a tag on Elizabethtown's Mike Christy as he tries to score. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER – Shenandoah University’s torrid start to the 2017 college baseball season continued against visiting Elizabethtown College Wednesday afternoon.

Hornets sophomore starting pitcher Robert Klinchock picked up his first career win while SU banged out 11 hits and scored eight combined runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings en route to a 9-4 non-conference victory over the Blue Jays at Bridgeforth Field.

It was the eighth straight win to open the season for the Hornets, who have climbed to No. 6 in the D3baseball.com/NCBWA top 25 poll.

“I think (we just have) confidence in ourselves,” said sophomore first baseman Luke Nussman, one of seven Hornets to record a hit in the win. “Up and down the lineup I don’t think we really have a hole at all or just an out in the lineup. Any day of the week some guy can come in and it be his day. That’s the way we kind of go about it. And pitching, we’re behind them every step of the way and they go out there and fill it up for us.”

Klinchock, a left-hander making just his second career start after working out of the bullpen for the Hornets last season, tossed 6.2 innings for SU on Wednesday while limiting the Blue Jays (2-1) to two earned runs on five hits and four walks. Klinchock finished with four strikeouts.

Elizabethtown's shortstop Nick Lorenz misses a throw while Shenandoah's Abel Arocho makes a safe slide into second base on a steal Wednesday at Bridgeforth Field in Winchester. Rich Cooley/Daily

“It feels good. It’s nice to finally get your first one under your belt and kind of get going after that,” Klinchock said. “It’s all about just putting it behind you and going back out there and just getting better every day. I’m blessed to have a great eight guys behind me doing the same thing I’m doing, competing their (butts) off and all that.”

Klinchock stranded six baserunners, including three in scoring position.

“I threw my first curveball in the third inning, so the first two I was all fastball/changeups,” he said. “My fastball had some life and some movement to it, which was nice to see. Changeup was good at times. … They got on top of a few balls, which is kind of concerning to me but … it’s nice having those guys behind me.”

Shenandoah eventually backed its starting pitcher with plenty of run support after mustering a lone run through the first five innings against two different Blue Jays pitchers.

The Hornets broke a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the sixth inning when Nussman led off the frame with a walk against reliever Braden Stinar, moved to third on Dylan Stouffer’s single and scored on a delayed double steal. The throw from Elizabethtown shortstop Nick Lorenz beat Nussman to the plate, but catcher Frank Ragozzino couldn’t keep control of the ball through Nussman’s slide and the ball squirted free.

Shenandoah University's Nate Loman, right, greets Tristan Baker, left, after Baker scored during a game against Elizabethtown earlier this season. The Hornets open ODAC tournament play Friday in Lynchburg. Rich Cooley/Daily

Stouffer, who stole second to initiate the go-ahead play and moved to third on Ragozzino’s error, scored on a balk to give SU a 3-1 lead.

Leading 3-2 in the bottom of the seventh, the Hornets created some breathing room with three runs in the inning. Junior shortstop Nick Goode (2-for-4) put two runners in scoring position when he lined a one-out double into left, which Nussman followed with a two-run double to give the Hornets a 5-2 lead.

Junior third baseman Christian Rice made it three straight doubles for SU when he hit a sharp grounder down the third-base line to plate Nussman for a 6-2 advantage.

The Hornets, led by leadoff man Tristan Baker’s 3-for-4 afternoon, combined for six extra-base hits, worked eight walks and struck out just three times against five different Elizabethtown pitchers in the win.

“I think it goes back to early spring when we got back to campus. We were intrasquading almost every day, so we see a lot of live pitching,” said Nussman, who went 1-for-3 with two RBIs, two walks and two runs scored. “We’re really disciplined, we’re able to see the ball out of the hand and make adjustments when we need to.”

Elizabethtown's Nick Lorenz has the ball bounce back at him in the face during a bunt attempt Thursday afternoon against Shenandoah University at Bidgeforth Field. Rich Cooley/Daily

Loew, a senior designated hitter and preseason All-American, gave the Hornets a 9-2 lead with a line drive three-run home run that snuck over the right-field fence in a lefty-lefty matchup against reliever Nate Baxter in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Loew went 2-for-2 with a double, two walks and a hit-by-pitch on Wednesday and is 12-for-25 (.480) with four home runs, three doubles and 13 RBIs in SU’s first eight games.

“It’s much easier to hit when you know guys in front of you and behind you can hit as well. It takes the pressure off,” Loew said.

“Coach does a great job of getting us in just the reaction phase. You’re not going up there thinking. We’ve been playing so much and getting so many at-bats that you just go up there and react.”

Senior right-hander Tyler Hott, a Strasburg High School graduate, pitched the final 2.1 innings for Shenandoah and recorded his third save of the season. He allowed two runs (one earned) on three hits, one walk and one strikeout.

Hott struggled initially out of the bullpen, as he walked the first batter he faced after relieving Klinchock with two outs in the top of the seventh and allowed an inherited runner to score after a balk and a wild pitch.

Hott gave up two runs in the top of the ninth on three hits, although only one of those runs was earned.

“Tyler, we didn’t have him last weekend. He was sick so he’s actually missed a bullpen and a game outing,” SU head coach Kevin Anderson said. “We’re counting on him to come in at the back end of a game. He was a little rusty at first but he settled down and we have a lot of confidence in him.”

Shenandoah returns to action at Mary Washington on Friday before hosting The City College of New York for three games on Saturday and Sunday. The Hornets open their Old Dominion Athletic Conference schedule on March 11.

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com