Last Friday, the Slippery Rock University baseball team (6-1, 0-0 in PSAC) kicked off its slate of four games in three days at the generator-powered Jack Critchfield Park with a doubleheader against fellow PSAC West contender Indiana (Pa.) (1-5, 0-0 in PSAC). The first game was slated to start at noon with a pitching matchup between SRU’s Luke Trueman and IUP’s Ben Hudock.
After two scoreless innings of play that saw Trueman record four of his seven strikeouts on the day, a double by Alex Robenolt to center field gave The Rock a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the third. The Crimson Hawks struck back in the top of the 5th off a two-run scoring single from Harrison Pontoli.
After Slippery Rock’s Jon Kozarian, a junior infielder, got on base by way of hit by pitch, he was immediately driven in by the first of two round-trippers on the day by catcher Connor Hamilton. Continuing he back and forth affair in the top of the 6th, IUP scored a flurry of 3 runs by way of a run-off of a fielder’s choice, wild pitch, and Markus Cestra single.
Heading to the bottom of the 6th down a pair of runs, the Rock regained the lead thanks to a Kozarian sacrifice fly, a Hamilton single, and a Quentin Brown double that brought in a pair, giving the Rock a two-run lead over the Crimson Hawks. That was all junior Travis Holman needed to close out the first game of the doubleheader, as he struck out two on the way two the Rock’s 7-5 victory.
Trueman showed great command on the mound, striking out seven and not allowing any walks. He allowed two earned runs over five innings of work. Junior JT Wolke earned the win after coming out of the bullpen for an inning of work in the 6th. Holman shut down the Crimson Hawks in the 7th to earn his first save on the year.
Hamilton mashed the baseball turning in a 4-4 performance with his first homerun and three RBIs. Abraham Mow, Kozarian, Robenolt, and Brown all added doubles for the rock with Brown scoring two.
The back end of the doubleheader would see a pitching matchup of the Rock’s Christian Seelhorst and the Crimson Hawks’ Nick Kuhn.
Both teams hit the ground running in the first, with IUP scoring off of a Chris Eisel home run and Slippery Rock countering with a pair of consecutive run-producing at bats from Hamilton and Robenolt. The Rock would control the rest of the game by putting another seven runs up on the board, beginning with a three-run blast from Hamilton in the bottom of the 3rd, his second in the doubleheader.
Additional offense for Slippery Rock came by way of an Anthony Cinicola single, a Trueman long ball, and a Colin Cain run-scoring single. After giving up the early run, Seelhorst locked in, mowing down 11 Crimson Hawk batters over 4.2 innings of work and picking up his first win of the young season. Sophomore Andy McClymonds dominated in relief, striking out five, allowing only one hit, and picking up his first save. The Rock swept the doubleheader, finishing out a 9-2 win over its archrival.
Nick Kuhn picked up the loss for the Crimson Hawks after going 3.2 innings, surrendering five, and striking out four. Slippery Rock head coach Messer was content his team’s ability to take advantage of IUP’s struggling pitching and the effectiveness his own staff, which he says has more depth than in recent seasons.
“There’s no bad team in the PSAC,” Messer said. “Everybody is very competitive and usually pitching matchups determine how the game is going to go. We were fortunate to go into the weekend with four, five, six strong pitchers ready to go. They got us four great starts. They got us into mid- or late-innings, then our relievers were able to come in […] Our starting pitching, as well as McClymonds, has been outstanding.”
Hamilton was crucial to the Rock offense again, driving in four in producing another home run and triple. Trueman came off of his strong pitching performance in game one to turn an equally good performance at the plate in game two, launching a homer and picking up two RBIs on the day.
Even with all of Hamilton’s offensive prowess, Messer recognizes his catcher’s work behind the plate.
“[Hamilton] is an all-around player,” Messer said. “He basically runs the show for us […] He’s in the middle of every pitch. He’s involved defensively. If you ask any of our pitchers, that’s been the difference maker […] We knew we were getting a good player, but, I’ll be honest, he’s even better than we thought he was going to be.”
“IUP, I think, maybe, they’re not the strongest team that we’ve played yet in this season,” Messer said. “But, I think they’re probably the most important wins because we’re going to see them again. Plus, you know, it’s IUP.”
On Sunday, The Rock looked for a repeat doubleheader performance against Maryland’s Frostburg State (2-6), a last-minute addition to the schedule, according to Messer. A 1 p.m. start featured a rubber match of the Rock’s Ricky Mineo and the Bobcats’ Hayden Ford.
Slippery Rock plated a run in the bottom of the first off the hot bat of Hamilton. Frostburg State’s Andrew Smith tied the game with a homer to center in the next half inning. The Rock would add runs in the home half of the next four innings with 3 runs coming off the bat of leadoff hitter Abraham Mow and an additional 3 from Robenolt.
Slippery Rock’s Mineo kept the Bobcats’ offense in check through his five innings of work, giving up two earned runs and punching out ten. Heading into the 7th, Slippery Rock led 8-3. Frostburg made a bid for a comeback, plating two runs, but Slippery Rock pitcher Andy McClymonds was able to shut the Bobcats down in his second appearance of the weekend, giving The Rock their 5th straight victory with an 8-5 score.
Mow had a big game, launching a home run and producing a two-run scoring double. Robenolt tallied three RBIs for the Rock. Hamilton and senior outfielder Nick Reynosa had multi-hit performances and drove in a run. Mineo picked up his second win.
The last game of the weekend saw an explosion of offense from both sides, ending with a walkoff win in extras for the Rock. It featured Slippery Rock’s Andrew Shivak and Frostburg’s James Stefanowicz.
After a first inning home run from the Bobcats Bryce Jackson, Shivak was able to hold Frostburg State scoreless over the rest of his appearance. During this time, the Rock’s offense tallied a double-digit run total. The flurry of offense included homers from Kozarian in the 2nd and freshman Eddie Morris in the 5th.
Frostburg State showed no quit after being down nine and put up seven runs in the sixth. A bases-loaded walk in the bottom half of the inning left the Rock with a diminished three-run lead. The Bobcats picked up where they left off in the last inning, scoring four and taking the lead back from Slippery Rock.
“To jump out like we did, you do not like to give up [that big of a] lead,” Messer said. “There was a lot of nervous people, but win or lose, I was very interested to see how we’d react to the tough time. And they responded.”
A clutch single by Robenolt tied the game in the bottom of the seventh. McClymonds shut down Frostburg in the top of the 8th, striking out two, giving Slippery Rock the chance to walk off and sweep the doubleheader. Mow answered the call of opportunity, lacing a double down the left field line, allowing freshman Koby Bubash to cross home plate and celebrate with his teammates.
Kozarian plated four in as many hits, a triple away from the cycle. Eight Slippery Rock batters had multi-hit performances in a 21-hit effort. McCylmonds picked up the win in his second outing of the doubleheader.
“It gives us momentum going in, especially after you lose that lead,” Messer said. “If we had lost that game, I think all of your momentum, you can forget about that […] As much as you say not to think about it, you are going to think about it going into the next game.”
The team’s belief in itself after last year’s 7-3 start has carried over, Messer believes.
“The opportunity to play the beginning of March in Slippery Rock, and all of our games so far have been in Slippery Rock […] is a special thing,” Messer said. “We cherish every game that we play because, after what we missed last year, they know that things could change in a hurry.”