Finishing off a four-game sweep of Clarion University Saturday afternoon, the Slippery Rock baseball had just rattled off its’ eighth straight win, pushing its record to 12-5. Having not won their 12th game until April 30 last season, the team has started the year in much better shape.
Slippery Rock won game one 6-5. and it turned out to be a power exhibition for two of Slippery Rock’s best hitters. Junior Tyler Walters started at catcher in the first game of the doubleheader, going 1-3 and making that one hit count by sending it deep out of the park. Junior Christian Porterfield hit cleanup and started at designated hitter, going 2-3 with three RBIs and sending both of his hits over the wall.
“As good as he’s been, he is still not on track,” Rock head coach Jeff Messer said of Slippery Rock’s star catcher Walters.
Messer also had high praise for Porterfield, “he’s done a good job for us, and his arm is strong. Those two guys are either going to be catching or (designated hitting) all the time because they are two very good hitters.”
All three Slippery Rock outfielders continued their great start to the season, led by senior right fielder James Divosevic who had a perfect 4-4 day at the plate and gathered two RBIs. Sophomore center fielder Frankie Jezioro went 2-3 and added a stolen base, while transfer junior left fielder Luca Fuscardo went 1-4.
The rest of the Rock’s starting lineup did not contribute much, with senior first basemen Carson Kessler, sophomore shortstop Joe Campagna, junior second baseman Mitchell Wood and junior third baseman Matt Mandes going a combined 0-11. Although, Wood did contribute a stolen base and Campagna was hit by a pitch.
The biggest contributor to SRU’s win was junior starting pitcher Matt Gordon. After giving up a run in the first inning, and three first-pitch hits in the second, Gordon settled in and pitched through six complete innings. Gordon finished with five runs given up, but only three earned due to a sixth-inning throwing error by Walters. Gordon also struck out seven, while giving up nine hits.
“He can still pitch better than he has,” Messer said of Gordon. “He got some key outs when he needed it. A couple double play balls really helped.”
Even with his success, Messer is confident that Gordon will continue to improve this year, “I still don’t think that was his best game, I think he can pitch better than that. He is definitely one of the guys in our rotation.”
In the seventh inning, senior pitcher Josh Coleman entered and cruised to his third save of the year while striking out a batter. “Our bullpen is pretty set on Coleman as the closer” coach Messer said.
Game two was also a one-run win for The Rock, but included much more drama than the first.
“Last year we lost close games,” Messer said. “This year we have a different Chemistry and mindset. We know that anybody can beat you in a one-run game in this league.”
The offensive production was much more spread around the team in the second game, with all four RBIs going to different players. Divosevic was the highlight of game two, going 2-4 and driving in the game-winning run with a double in the bottom of the sixth. Divosevic also added his first stolen base of the season.
Joining Divosevic in the outfield for game two was junior left fielder Kyle Wise, who executed a perfect hit and run play to drive in an additional key run late in the game. Jezioro also reached base three times in game two, twice being hit by a pitch and adding another hit.
Walters and Porterfield did not get a chance to demonstrate the power they exhibited in game one, as the duo was walked two times each. Walters finished 0-1 and Porterfield added another hit, going 1-2. Porterfield started the second game at catcher, and threw out a Clarion runner, the same as Walters did behind the dish in game one.
Kessler recorded his seventh RBI of the season with a sacrifice fly, also walking and striking out once to finish 0-1.
The last RBI belonged to Fuscardo, who pinch hit in the bottom of the sixth inning for sophomore Tyler Mergliano, who started the game at third base and finished 1-2. Fuscardo came up with a clutch RBI single that tied the game, which led to Slippery Rock taking the lead in the next at bat by Divosevic. “We didn’t start Fuscardo in the second game even though he has the best average on the team, but we knew he would get a chance to get up and do something, and it worked out for us.” Said coach Messer on Fuscardo’s successful pinch-hit.
In the top of the seventh, drama struck as Clarion’s best hitter, Tyler Faulk came up to the plate with one runner on.
“He is one of the best hitters in our conference,” Messer said with high praise for The Golden Eagle’s first baseman. Faulk hit a strong blast to left field, and flipped his bat at the Slippery Rock dugout.
“I thought it was gone by about 100 feet,” Messer said. “I didn’t even think it was going to be close. That ball was hit as good as I’ve ever seen a ball hit here before.”
However, Wise made an amazing backwards-diving catch at the left field wall that saved the runs, and quite possibly the game.
Three Rock pitchers combined to get them to that point in the seventh, with the start going to sophomore Trevor Adkins.
“We’re looking for a number four starter, and we’re not sure who it’s going to be yet,” Messer said. “He had a good outing down in Cary (North Carolina), his control wasn’t as good as it was down there today, but when he did throw strikes he did okay.”
Adkins finished with three innings pitched, two earned runs, four hits, one walk, and two strikeouts.
Junior Shawn Holman was the first reliever to appear, and went two innings, giving up two runs and also striking out two.
Sophomore Wyatt Daugherty finished the game for the Green and White, and earned his second win of the season while striking out two.
“We know that if we can stay close, our bullpen can give us a chance,” Messer said of the four innings of relief he got out of the bullpen in game two.
“Just about every one of these last eight games could have went the other way,” Messer said. “That’s the difference between a winning season and a losing season.”
Slippery Rock next plays a doubleheader at home on Friday, March 31st versus Pitt-Johnstown, and then plays another doubleheader the following day at UPJ.