Capitalizing on its opening day win on Friday, the Southwestern Assemblies of God University baseball team took two-of-three in a weekend series against Oklahoma’s Hillsdale College. The Lions won the first game of Saturday’s doubleheader in dramatic fashion, 8-7, before falling in the nightcap by a 6-3 count.
The split gave the Lions a 2-1 start to the 2011 season. Head coach Greg Hayes saw a marked improvement over last year’s ballclub, who began the year 0-5 and finished 8-27. That team struggled with offensive consistency and pitching in general.
In the weekend series, Southwestern rang up 20 runs in three games and was benefitted by solid starts on the mound in each contest.
The first game, which had a noon first pitch, was chocked full of excitement, suspense and drama.
Trailing 7-5 in the bottom of the last inning, Hayes sent freshman Weston Lippe to the plate to pinch hit for Sean Armstrong. Runners were on first and second when junior Cael Josephson delivered a 1-0 fastball to Lippe. He crushed it into the Texas sky for a 3-run, walk-off homer that made a winner of SAGU and relief pitcher Philip Heider.
His first collegiate at bat was as stunning as it was climactic.
It salvaged a game in which Southwestern committed five errors, leading to five unearned runs.
The Lions staked sophomore right-hander Jared Jones to a quick 2-0 lead with RBI singles off the bats of Patrick Wherland and DuJuan Prater.
Three miscues in the top of the second allowed the Saints to take a 3-2 lead. Jared Denton and Wherland answered with back-to-back run-scoring singles to lift the Lions back on top, 4-3.
Hillsdale, located in Moore, Okla., strung together a few clutch hits and coupled with two more errors by a generous SAGU defense, tacked on four runs in the fourth to regain the lead, 7-4. The Lions added a solo run in the fifth when designated hitter Dominic Denney smacked an RBI hit.
That set the stage for Southwestern’s rally in the seventh.
Lippe logged onto the “gone network” with the 3-run dinger that was an exclamation mark.
Wherland led the team by going 4-for-4 at the plate (all singles), scoring twice and knocking in a pair of runs. Prater was the only other player with multiple hits. He ripped two hits in four trips to the dish, with a run and an RBI. They totaled six of the team’s seven hits.
In his debut after his season-ending shoulder surgery last spring, Jones pitched well. He went six innings, allowing only three hits and two earned runs. Jones walked three and fanned five. Heider breezed through the seventh, giving up a harmless single. He was credited with the win.
The second game was a tense pitcher’s duel between the Lions’ Chris Stanley, who has been a frontline starter for three seasons in Waxahachie, and the Saints’ Matt Cothran. After scoring three first inning runs, Hillsdale tied the game in the second.
The Lions scored thrice on Denton’s RBI three-bagger and a run-producing single by Wherland.
Heider was on the hill in the seventh with the score still deadlocked. Parlaying two walks, two hits and an infield error against SAGU, the Saints sent three runs across the plate. Only one was earned. But that’s all they needed.
Joey Koebelen broke the tie with a two-out single off of Heider. D.J. McIntyre then tapped a seeing eye grounder between third and shortstop that drove in two against reliever Tim Kolczak.
The Lions were feeling a déjà vu moment in the last half of the seventh. Behind by three, they filled the bases.
There were two outs when Denton strolled to the plate with a chance to duplicate Lippe’s jack. Denton had a run and an RBI triple earlier in the game.
That forced Hillsdale skipper Eddie Davis to pull Cothran in favor of Koebelen. The junior saved the day when he struck out Denton, the Lions’ No. 3 batter.
Still, SAGU had a chance at the end to make it a banner weekend. A year after a season in which Murphy’s Law was usually in effect, the Lions had to be satisfied with the hope of better times.
Wherland added more hits, giving him six on the day. He rapped seven in 11 at-bats over the weekend, scoring three times and driving in four.
The Lions will play a pair of doubleheaders this weekend, all at the Waxahachie Sports Complex on Broadhead Road. The team will take on Arlington Baptist College and Central Christian College (Kansas) on Friday and Saturday, Feb. 4-5.
The games on Friday are set to begin at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Saturday’s twin bill starts at noon against the CCC Tigers and 4 p.m. versus the ABC Patriots.