The Slippery Rock baseball team resumed Pennsylvania Stay Athletic Conference (PSAC) play this weekend as they took on the Clarion Golden Eagles in a four-game series. The series took place in a span of just two days, with the first pair of games being played at Jack Critchfield Park on Saturday and the latter two games played on Sunday at Michelle Krill Field in Butler, Pa. The Rock was unable to defend their home grass against their rival on Saturday, dropping both games by scores of 8-7 and 7-3. However, as the weather started to warm up, the Green and White did as well. Sunday belonged to The Rock, as they defeated Clarion in both games by scores of 5-0 and 6-4, denying the opposition of a series win.
The four-game series now puts The Rock at an overall record of 10-15 and a 3-9 record in conference play, effectively lifting them out of the basement of the PSAC West. Clarion drops to 14-17 overall on the season and still holds a two-game lead over Slippery Rock in conference play (5-7).
In the first game of the series, both starting pitchers had a hard time turning batters away. In the bottom of the first inning, Joe Campagna displayed his power as he sent a ball flying over the left field fence, giving The Rock a 3-0 lead. Clarion was able to answer in the top of the second inning, putting up three runs of their own and tying the game.
The two teams would go back and forth exchanging runs, with both unable to pull away from the other, as The Rock held on to a 6-5 lead heading into the fifth inning. The Golden Eagles were able to rip away the lead from the Green and White, however, as The Rock struggled to shut the door on close counts on a few occasions. Clarion would go on to score three runs, marking the third lead change of the game.
After a scoreless sixth inning, SRU was able to cut the Golden Eagles’ lead down to one. With the bases loaded with Rock runners and only one out on the scoreboard, it looked as though Slippery Rock was on the doorstep of a walk-off victory. Clarion’s Derek Pritchard had other plans, however, as he got out of the jam and put an end to the Green and White comeback, preserving an 8-7 victory. Tanner Stanz (2-2) took the loss for The Rock, allowing eight runs and 11 hits in four innings of work.
Even though The Rock put up seven runs in as many innings, Head coach Jeff Messer noted that leaving runners stranded on base proved to be a backbreaking issue for the club. “I think the guys were trying to do too much when we had runners on, we were trying too hard to hit the ball out of the park,” Messer said. “When you have that many guys on base, you need to capitalize, or you won’t win many games.”
In the second game of the day, Slippery Rock failed to gain much traction early, as poor pitching allowed Clarion to hop out to an early 6-1 lead. The Golden Eagles would never look back, cruising to a 7-3 victory. Joe Campagna, Abraham Mow, and Colin Cain were able to contribute offensively for The Rock, with each driving in a run.
Ryan Tapp (0-4) took the loss for The Rock, as he had an up and down day by striking out five batters but letting four walk and four score. Andy McClymonds relieved Tapp of his duties and pitched the remaining four innings of the game. With the freshman on the mound, three runs were allowed, but only one run was earned. McClymonds was also able to strike out four Golden Eagles, while only allowing three hits and two walks.
While growing pains are essential with any young roster, pitching has not been the only ailment to The Rock this year. Out of Slippery Rock’s 14 hits combined between the two games, 11 of those hits came from The Rock’s first four batters. With more contribution from the middle of the lineup, Coach Messer believes that this team can begin to reach its potential.
“We are certainly going through growing pains and making adjustments. We need more contributions from everybody and need to put together a better team effort. We need to play up to our potential and right now we’re just not doing that.” Messer said.
Even though The Rock registered two losses on Saturday, the veteran coach was certainly able to get his team to put together a couple of excellent performances as they took their talent to Michelle Krill Field on Sunday.
In a masterful performance, Slippery Rock’s Wyatt Daugherty was able to put together one of The Rock’s strongest pitching performances of the season, putting together a complete game while not allowing a single Golden Eagle cross home plate. Relatively inexperienced as a starter, Daugherty was unphased in his third collegiate start, striking out six Clarion batters and only allowing five hits over seven innings. Throughout the course of the entire game, there was never more than one Clarion runner on base at the same time.
With shutdown pitching on the mound, Coach Messer watched his team put together an excellent team game, as senior star Frankie Jezioro got the scoring party started for The Rock, as he led off with a statement home-run, not to be outdone by fellow slugger Joe Campagna, who launched a ball over the fence for The Rock later in the inning.
In the second inning, The Rock would tack on two more runs on the board, as another baseball soared over the fence for The Rock, courtesy of Colin Cain before Abraham Mow plated Jon Kozarian on an RBI double.
Slippery Rock put up another run in the fifth inning thanks to Jezioro’s second home-run of the game, giving more insurance to their pitcher who was sitting down batters as quick as they walked up to the plate. Daugherty only allowed two hits in the final three frames to secure the win for The Rock.
In the latter game of Sunday’s schedule, Clarion responded by shutting down Slippery Rock over the first five innings, hopping out to a convincing 3-0 lead. Even though The Rock was down, they surely were not out, as their offense exploded late, putting up six runs over the last two innings.
Tyler Mergliano started the comeback for Slippery Rock in the sixth inning, as he hit a one-out, RBI single. The Golden Eagles saw their lead vanish as Colin Cain continued his productive weekend by hitting a two-run shot, painting the right field line.
Representative of the entire weekend, The Rock’s relief pitching was impressive with Alex Worthington putting together a perfect inning of relief, priming The Rock to take the lead in the top of the seventh inning. The ever so reliable duo of Jezioro and Campagna both hit home runs, giving the Green and White their first lead of the game with a score of 6-3.
Heading into the bottom of the seventh inning, The Rock was three outs away from a comeback victory and splitting the series with their PSAC foe. Momentarily, the Green and White’s lead was threatened, as Clarion cut down SRU’s lead down to 6-4 and put runners on first and second. However, Worthington was able to work himself out of the jam, as a Brian Casper groundout sealed the victory for Slippery Rock.
JT Wolke (1-0) impressed in his first start of the season, only allowing three runs over a stretch of five innings. Worthington (1-1) was sensational in relief, striking out four Golden Eagles and only giving up one run to earn his first win of the season.
Slippery Rock put together an all-around better performance in the final two games of the series, combining for 16 hits in both games compared to Saturday’s 14, and only allowing four combined runs on Sunday compared to allowing 15 on Saturday.
Slippery Rock will play yet another doubleheader on April 9 at Jack Critchfield Park as they take on Mansfield University in a non-conference matchup. First pitch of game one is scheduled for 1 p.m.