NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release) - Back in 2011, the Stephen F. Austin baseball team featured the likes of individuals like Hunter Dozier and Bryson Myles playing the field and hurlers like Jared and Jason West dealing balls and strikes on the hill.
Until Tuesday night, that year happened to be the last in which the 'Jacks had strung together more than five wins.
Moved down into the five-hole, senior outfielder Conner Fikes busted out of a 4-for-29 slump at the dish over the last six games by going 3-for-3 and Zac Michener blasted a two-run home run to open the scoring in the bottom of the third as the 'Jacks claimed an 8-2 victory over Mississippi Valley State Tuesday night at Jaycees Field.
In front of a sizable crowd on Panhellenic Night, freshman left-hander Jackson Gore made his first collegiate start and fired 3.2 innings of one-run baseball to secure his first victory in a Lumberjack uniform.
"We moved Fikes down just to give him a chance to see a few more fastballs and to get him to relax while taking some of the pressure off him," said head coach Johnny Cardenas. "Michener hits that home run and in the dugout you hear Gore say, "man, I can breathe now." That hit really settled the whole club down.
Aside from Fikes' third three-hit game of 2017, senior Tyler Kendrick submitted a multi-hit outing by going 2-for-4 at the dish with one run scored. Senior Nick Ramos racked up a game-high three RBI for the 'Jacks who improved to 13-3 at home.
"I like where we're at as a team right now, but we still have so much we can improve on," Cardenas continued. "We're playing loose and playing for each other and you can see the good things that have happened because of it."
Michener drove the first pitch he saw from Mississippi Valley State starter Jackson Webb in the third out beyond the fence in left-center field, plating both himself and senior Tyler Kendrick who led off the frame by nestling a double in the left-field corner.
Gore gave up a two-out RBI single to the Delta Demons in the fourth before senior Ryan Thomas ended the visitors' threat by getting out of the frame with a groundout. Still in the lead by a 2-1 margin, SFA turned an Eric DeJesus leadoff walk in the fifth into its third run of the game.
After moving over to third on a pair of wild pitches, DeJesus jogged home on a sacrifice fly by Nick Ramos. Senior Erik Nouis took over for Thomas in the top of the sixth and needed just 16 pitches to get out of the frame. From there, SFA padded its lead by a considerable margin.
Fikes started the 'Jacks five-run sixth with a one-out double before three consecutive walks by Mississippi Valley State relief arm Kevin Gonzal pushed SFA's lead to 4-1. DeJesus followed that up by punching a two-run single through the left side of the infield before Ramos received credit for a pair of RBI after reaching on a fielder's choice and moving to second on the first of two errors by the visitors in the frame.
Staked to an 8-1 lead after their big inning, the 'Jacks turned the ball over to sophomore Austin Hearn and the second-year man retired the Delta Demons in order in the seventh and eighth innings. Chris Hassold tossed the ninth for SFA and was hit with an unearned run before ending the game with his third strikeout of the frame.