CAPE GIRARDEAU, MO (Press Release)- In most cases, possessing one of the Southland Conference's best offenses has allowed the Stephen F. Austin baseball team simply to out-slug their opponents en route to victory. While they did rely on some timely hitting at Capaha Field on Friday afternoon, it was the 'Jacks' speed and baserunning that won the day.
Finishing a home run shy of the cycle with his 3-for-4 day at the plate, junior Conner Fikes' sparked SFA's rally by tying things at two-all with his two-out steal of home plate in the bottom of the seventh before a pair of wild pitches in the ninth allowed junior Zac Michenerto score the eventual game-winning run in SFA's dramatic 3-2 comeback triumph over Southeast Missouri State.
Tyler Kendrick went 2-for-4 in the nine hole for SFA who, on the strength of a four-man pitching effort, largely put the clamps on the offense of the Ohio Valley Conference favorite Redhawks.
Faced with the difficult task of trying to score runs against Southeaster Missouri ace Joey Lucchesi - whose home ERA in 2016 was a miniscule 0.50 entering Friday's tilt – the 'Jacks pulled out all the stops both at the plate and on the basepaths.
At first, it seemed the Redhawks' 2-0 lead following the end of the first inning would be insurmountable. SFA starter Patrick Ledet was charged with both of the runs as he surrendered three hits in the frame. Garrett Gandolfo's one-out single scored both Southeast Missouri State runs before Ledet closed the books on the frame with a flyout and a fielder's choice grounder.
As has been his wont through his past few starts, Ledet grew stronger as things progressed, this time responding after a rough first frame by shutting down one of the nation's best offenses. In his remaining five innings of work, the Nacogdoches, Texas, product gave up just five hits and worked a pair of one, two, three frames while registering six strikeouts to receive a no decision.
Knowing that runs were likely to be at a premium with Lucchesi tossing balls and strikes, the 'Jacks were aggressive while on-base. After seeind just three men reach through the first four frames, SFA's offensive broke through in the top of the fifth. Fikes started the frame with a double before Michener produced the 'Jacks' only RBI of the game when his single scored Fikes and cut the Redhawks' lead in half.
Trying to make it to third following Zach Valenzuela's single, Michener was instead cut down for the frame's first out. With two gone in that same inning, Tyler Kendrick drilled a sharp double to the gap in right-center and Clark Kahawaii was waved around third, only to get thrown out at the plate by a good margin to keep the home team up 2-1.
Fikes' daring play took place in the top of the seventh and after he made it to third with a one-out triple. With two outs and pinch hitter Tyler Pinkston at the plate, Fikes timed up Lucchesi's wind-up perfectly and broke for home plate. His straight-steal of home tied things up at two apiece and Eric Polivka kept the home team off the board by retiring the Redhawks in order in the seventh.
Polivka struck out the first batter in the home eighth before giving the ball to freshman Austin Hearn who needed just three pitches to get out of the inning. Garrett McMullen latched on to a hot one-hopper to first to begin an inning-ending double play, setting up the 'Jacks game-winning score in the ninth and giving Hearn his first collegiate pitching victory.
A hit was not necessary for SFA against Redhawk reliever Jake Busiek who walked both Michener and Valenzuela in the ninth. Two wild pitches later, Michener had crossed home plate and Tyler Starks pitched around a leadoff walk in the ninth to secure his fifth save and give the 'Jacks a season-high winning streak of four games.
Lucchesi didn't factor into the decision, but did strike out eight batters for Southeast Missouri in seven innings. After racking up five hits in the first two frames, the Redhawks smacked only two more the rest of the way and Branden Boggetto was the only man for the home team who enjoyed a multi-hit afternoon (2-for-4).