NACOGDOCHES, Texas (Press Release) - Down to their final three home games of their career and fighting for their postseason lives, the Stephen F. Austin baseball senior class wasn't about to see their Southland Conference Tournament hopes take another hit.
Tony Grabowske gave the 'Jacks their first quality start on the mound in almost three weeks by firing six innings of one-hit baseball, Conner Fikes served as the team's offensive catalyst by driving in three of the game's four runs and the 'Jacks remained in line for postseason baseball by securing a 4-0 victory over Houston Baptist at Jaycees Field Friday night.
Grabowske improved to 5-3 on the hill for the 'Jacks who remain one game ahead of ninth-place New Orleans for the eighth and final playoff spot with two games to go in their 2017 regular season slate.
"Starting pitching is something we have lacked for almost a month and tonight we saw how it really sets us up well, lets your defense play a little bit better and lets your hitters be a little less tight," said SFA head coach Johnny Cardenas.
SFA's junior from New Brighton, Minn., outdueled Houston Baptist ace Addison Russ who struck out five, and gave up eight of the 'Jacks' nine hits as well as all four runs in 7.2 frames of work. Another big ingredient of the win that snapped SFA's four-game Southland Conference losing skid was defense as the home team's pitchers struck out just three batters on the night and held the Huskies to only two hits.
Grabowske and Russ traded zeroes through the first two frames and after SFA's starter tossed a scoreless third his offense went to work. Eric DeJesus got the ball rolling by rapping a one-out double to left and moved to third on a passed ball before Nick Ramos' two-out walk put runners on the corners.
Following Ramos' trot to first, Fikes got the barrel on the first pitch he saw from Russ and laced just inside fair territory down the right field line. That double drove in both DeJesus and Ramos, giving the 'Jacks a 2-0 lead they would never give up.
"Conner did a good job of sticking with our plan at the plate and just taking what their starter give him in certain situations," Cardenas said. "We told him to relax at the plate and he was lucky enough to get a pitch up in the zone he could handle and hit it down the line and that really let us breathe a little easier."
Those two runs were more than enough for Grabowske to work with and before he left the game after giving up a leadoff walk in the seventh, he stranded a runner on second in the fourth and covered first after a great diving stop by Alex Hrinevich with two outs in the bottom of the fifth. Hrinevich flipped the ball to Grabowske at first, stranding an HBU runner at third and keeping the shutout intact.
Will Vest came in for Grabowske in the seventh and got out of the frame with three ground ball outs. The junior gave up the Huskies' only other hit of the day when Joe Van Marter sent a one-out single up the middle in the eighth but a pair of fly ball outs finished Vest's night of work.
SFA received a pair of big-time insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth to put the game away. DeJesus started off the frame with a one-out walk before Tyler Kendrick followed with his second hit of the night. With two out and down to his last strike, Fikes struck again and sent an RBI single through the left side of the HBU infield that made matters 3-0. Zac Michener stepped up and sent another RBI single through the left side to account for the final score.
Although he issued a pair of walks in the ninth, sophomore relief arm Tyler Starks registered a pair of strikeouts and a game-ending groundout to get out of trouble.