Lock Haven bounces back with sweep of Cal

FARRANDSVILLE – The one thing about the 2013 Lock Haven University baseball team is that it is a resilient bunch of athletes.

On the heels of a disappointing sweep by California over the Bald Eagles on Saturday, LHU head coach Smokey Stover was hoping that his young crew could bounce back when the Vulcans visited Foundation Field on Sunday for the return engagement.

Not only did the Bald Eagles bounce back to play good baseball, they returned the favor to their PSAC-West rivals as they swept the Vulcans by scores of 6-5 and 2-1.

“Those are two huge wins,” said Stover while wearing a big smile. “I think Saturday’s losses were all about learning to play on the road. (Alec) Jacob started the second game yesterday and gave up four runs because he was so nervous that he couldn’t get it done. But today was a different story. Even the young kids are more relaxed at home because they don’t seem to get so uptight. We had a few jitters today, but as a rule, they play twice as good at home as they do on the road.”

In the first game, the baseball gods must have been looking down on the Bald Eagles because while walking nine Vulcan batters and stranding four runners in scoring position in the first three innings, eight for the game, they still managed to find a way to win.

“I kept telling them that we can’t continue to do that and win ball games,” said Stover. “But they hung in there and stayed in there and found a way to win. Parker (Watson) was throwing pretty good for a freshman, but his pitch count got up around 100 and I had to get him out of there. With six or seven pitchers, we just have no bullpen, especially when you are playing five or six games a week.”

The first game was a back-and-forth affair as Cal took a 1-0 lead, but LHU came right back to tie the game at 1-all with a run in the bottom of the first.

LHU plated a pair of runs in the fourth inning for a 3-1 lead, but Cal answered with a pair in the top of the sixth for a 3-all deadlock.

LHU went on top once again in the bottom of the sixth with two runs on the strength of a long home run to left by Austin Botts, but again Cal tied it with a pair in the top of the seventh.

Not to let matters get out of hand, LHU won it in the bottom of the seventh when they “juiced” the sacks on a walk to Tyler Yesensky, a double to left by Josh Jones and an intentional walk issued to Jay Hartman before Ryan Henritzy plated Yesensky with the game-winner when he singled to left.

The second game featured a pitcher’s duel between Cal’s Mick Fennell and LHU’s Madison Neddo.

LHU took the initial lead when Botts singled and scored on a sacrifice fly by Yesensky and with Fennell and Neddo matching each other pitch-for-pitch, that is the way it stayed until the Vulcans scored a single run in the top of the fifth.

Then in the sixth, Jones opened with a walk, was sacrificed to second by Hartman and LHU bunting specialist Henritzy laid down what appeared to be his third perfect sacrifice bunt.

With Jones perched on third after some heads-up base running, not only did Henritzy lay down a perfect bunt, but as Jones slid across the plate with what would prove to be the game-winner, he beat it out for an RBI bunt single.

Again the pesky Vulcans wouldn’t go away when John Orr led off with a base on balls. But that is when Stover went to Jacob and in direct contrast to his outing twenty-four hours earlier, the righthander retired the Vulcans 1-2-3 to preserve the win and earn his second save of the season.

“Madison has real good stuff,” praised Stover. “His ball really runs and he is sneaky fast. But at times, he starts aiming the ball instead of just throwing it and that throws his mechanics off. When he struggles, it always looks to me like, man, he is in real trouble. But he usually finds a way to come out of it.”

Although there is a lot of baseball yet to be played, the pair of wins keeps the Bald Eagles in the PSAC-West race for the post-season.

“It is always exciting when you are still in the hunt (for the post-season), but I try to get them to stay in the present and not look behind or ahead,” said Stover. “But as kids do, they get online and look to see how the other teams did and try to piece things together. All I tell them is to play one game at a time and split the doubleheaders and we’ll be in the hunt.”

Although Cal swept the Bald Eagles by scores of 4-2 and 11-0 in Saturday’s action, a highlight of local interest in the second game was the outstanding pitching performance of former Bald Eagle Area standout Justin Taylor.

Going the distance to move his season log to 5-2, the Vulcan sophomore allowed just three hits to the Haven hitters while walking one and striking out one.

Picking up the three hits for the Bald Eagles were Casey Hamilton, Scott Zuback and Jeff Ross. Zuback’s single in the fourth inning broke up Taylor’s bid for a no-hitter, while Ross’s hit was an infield single to short in the fifth before Hamilton singled to center with one out in the sixth.

“I really felt good and I was able to go out there and do what I had to do,” said Taylor. “I mixed my pitches up and was able to keep the ball around the strike zone. For me, it was a little redemption for last year (a 5-1 loss) so it felt real good.”

Like any other athlete who moves his or her game from the high school level to the collegiate ranks, there are adjustment to be made. Taylor feels that he has made big strides in that area.

“Our pitching coach Chris Brunson reminded me that I could get away with throwing fastballs at 85, 86 miles per hour in high school,” said Taylor. “But now with the competition so good, that doesn’t work. We went down to Mt. Olive, the number two team in the nation, and after that I realized that I had to make a lot of adjustments to be successful. I am still working on those because I am not where I want to be. It takes a lot of adjusting and hard work, but right now, I feel that I am coming along.”

The Bald Eagles will be right back in action Tuesday at Foundation Field when they host the Mansfield Mountaineers in a PSAC crossover game slated for a 3 p.m. first pitch.