The Dayton Flyers continued their torrid hitting and got just enough pitching and defense to notch their first win of the season…over Furman.
Greenville, South Carolina – In a wild, wind-blown contest that saw eight home runs, 23 runs, 25 hits, and ten pitchers used (5 by each team) the Dayton Flyers held on Sunday afternoon to beat the Furman Paladins, 12-11, for their first win of the 2017 season.
To characterize, it was exhilarating, energizing, and yet exasperating as Dayton came back from an early 3-1 deficit to score once in the second, once in the third, six times in the fourth, three times in the fifth to at one point take an 11-4 lead – and then fight for dear life as a parade of pitchers – starter Tyler Jones (3 innings), R.J. Wagner (3.2 innings), Jason Johnson (.2 innings), Masashi Sakamoto (.1 inning) and Kevin Piersol (1.2 innings) combined their collective talents and fate to quell a furious Furman comeback.
For while Dayton was pounding the ball, Furman was pounding right back, scoring once in the first, three times in the second, one in each of the fourth, fifth, and sixth innings, twice in the eighth and twice in the ninth to close the margin to 12-11.
One could make the case that the Dayton bullpen was running on fumes, as Kevin Piersol got the first two outs of the ninth, then served up a two-run pinch hit home run to Landon Kay. He then walked leadoff hitter David Webel, and on a wild pitch in the dirt to the ensuing hitter Webel attempted to advance to second base.
Catcher Matt Poland came up throwing as Webel slid headfirst into second ahead of the tag attempt of Flyer second baseman Nick Ryan. But Webel’s momentum carried him beyond the bag, and the alert Ryan reached back and tagged him on the hip for the final out of the game.
It not only preserved the Flyers’ first win of the 2017 campaign, but it punctuated another day of outstanding offense and contributions throughout the lineup:
* Left fielder Mitch Coughlin went 2 for 5 and hit two home runs (the first two of his career), including one in the top of the ninth that turned out to be the winning run.
* Nick Ryan continued his torrid hitting, going 1 for 5, but scored twice and raised his average to .357.
* Freshman shortstop Brantley Johnson, who’s expected to contribute through his glovework at shortstop, went 2 for 5 at the plate, scored twice and drove in three runs.
* Freshman first baseman Tate Hagan got his first hit of the his college career, a home run, during the Flyers’ 6-run fourth.
* Right fielder Connor Echols went 3 for 4, scored once and drove in a pair of runs.
* Center fielder Robbie Doring continued his outstanding defensive play, while going 1 for 3 at the plate and scored twice.
* And freshman righthander R.J. Wagner made his second collegiate appearance in middle relief, fed the Paladins’ gopher (he gave up a pair of home runs), but battled to gain his first win.
The list goes on, and the description of how they scored, how they won, and how they withstood the Furman comeback is so twisted there’s hardly space, enough words, or patience to tell it.
“It was a great win for our ballclub,” said coach Tony Vittorio. “Not the cleanest win, but a good win for how we competed at the plate. A lot of things were magnified, like Mitch Coughlin’s home run in the ninth. And it won’t be remembered but Matt Poland worked his butt off behind home plate. There were a lot of pitches today and a lot of tough balls in the dirt.
“It was a hitter’s day with the wind,” he continued, “but we come out of here with 24 runs on the weekend and we didn’t do that last year. We competed. We had a lot of young guys and first-timers make contributions. You have a kid like Brantley Johnson, who we have out there to defend…he swung the bat today. Just a lot of character in this win and a lot of leadership by our upper classmen. We talk about that a lot, but today it was on full display.”
“It was huge to get the win, but even with the two losses this weekend the vibe of the team has been great,” said Coughlin (Bellefontaine High School). “It’s a totally different resiliency than what I’ve seen in my five years here. We kept positive and even in the games we got down in we kept coming back. I’m happy for the team, happy for the guys, and it’s going to be a lot happier bus ride back to Dayton tonight”
It’s one of the most well-worn cliches’ in sports – coaches when they talk about the necessity of leadership from their upperclassmen. But on Sunday…Coughlin, Doring, Ryan, Poland, and Kevin Piersol made cliches’ manifest.
“This team is so diverse,” said Nick Ryan while waiting to board the bus. “Up and down the lineup and on the bench who can do things, swing the bat, and they’re all ages.
“You saw today that our offense is really good. It’s fun to have all these young guys on the team that look up to you, but the most important thing is we all look up to them, too. They work their butt off just like we do, and that’s leadership, too. This team is different from teams in the past for the amount of effort you see every day. We have so much more to look forward to after three games this year.”
The Flyers won it with 12 runs on 12 hits, committed 2 errors and left 13 men on base.
Furman lost it with 11 runs on 13 hits, committed 3 erros and left eight men on base.
On a beautiful February day in South Carolina the game took 3 hours and 18 minutes to play in 72 degree weather.
The Flyers return to Spartanburg next weekend for a three-game series against UNC-Ashville, USC-Upstate, and Georgetown.
“We’ll go home and sort out the positives from this weekend,” said Vittorio, exhausted, but smiling as he climbed on the charter for home. “It’s so much better atmosphere after three games than last year. Not just from winning today, but the way we competed all weekend.”
It was, in Mitch Coughlin’s words, a fun trip back to Dayton!