Two bad innings spelled doom for UD in their baseball opener against Furman. But in between…glimpses of better things to come.
Greenville, South Carolina – There should be mulligans in baseball, perhaps. If there were, it would have helped the Dayton Flyers Friday in their 9-3 loss to Furman in the opener of the 2017 baseball season.
The Purple Paladins got off to a great start behind starting pitcher Will Gaddis, who threw hard and threw accurately for most of his six innings worked. Projected to be as high as a second round draft choice come June, the Furman righthander surrendered four hits, one run, struck out four and walked two. He threw 83 pitches.
To the contrary, sophomore Austin Cline couldn’t escape a familiar scenario from 2016. The sophomore from Logan County couldn’t locate his fastball in the first inning, couldn’t throw strikes at all with his secondary pitches, and when the dust had settled he was behind 3-0. No mulligans, mind you. His 2017 debut resembled a scalped five iron on the first tee.
To compound the misery, catcher Matt Poland airmailed a would-be pickoff throw over the head of first baseman Tate Hagan that helped fuel the Paladins’ first inning rally. To summarize their start, it looked a bit like swimming for the first time…when you’re not sure you can!
“It was good to see how Austin competed today without very good stuff,” said pitching coach Ryne Romick. “He pretty much had one pitch for three innings. He struggled with his curveball and his changeup was off and on. For certain at bats he seemed to find it, but they (Furman) were an aggressive fastball hitting team and when he had to come in with the fastball they ambushed it.”
In short, Cline pitched into the fifth before surrendering the baseball to reliever Danny Hentz, who, like Cline, couldn’t locate his pitches and surrendered a pair of unearned runs while giving up two hits, including a double on the first pitch he threw…to Furman third baseman Jake Crawford.
For their part the Flyers hit the ball hard at times – they just didn’t string together enough hits to do damage, another familiar scenario from last year. They finished with eight hits on the day, but for lack of a timely knock failed to do major damage in the third after scoring once (base hits by Connor Echols and Nick Ryan, and a walk to Hagan) when designated hitter Adam Moreau grounded out to third with the bases loaded.
Offensively, that was the tale of opening day. A hit here, and a hit there, but never three or four in a row. Credit the quality of Furman’s pitching.
“The difference in the game was the fact of our start as compared to theirs,” said Flyer coach Tony Vittorio. “But I was proud of some of our at bats. Really proud of Nicky Ryan (2 for 4) and Connor Echols (2 for 5). And our freshmen handled themselves well. In a lot of ways it was typical opening day. We just need some of the upperclassmen to pick things up tomorrow. We don’t want to hang on to today’s loss.”
While typical to an opening day, in Vittorio’s words, there were positives on which to build.
One, the Flyers DID have some good at bats. Behind early, they finished with eight hits in 27 at bats for the afternoon against an experienced pitching staff. That’s hitting at a .296 clip, compared to .241 for the entire 2016 season.
Two, they got a look at some of their young arms on the mound, significantly R.J. Wagner, who pitched a perfect sixth and appeared to be cruising in the seventh before surrendering a walk and a mammoth home run to Furman first baseman Brandon Elmy. Still, the slender righthander from Zionsville, Indiana demonstrated his ability to throw hard and compete.
And last, they pecked away at Furman’s bullpen, scoring a pair of runs in the eighth, highlighted by Connor Echol’s laser shot home run to left field. For the fact of those two bad innings, the first and the fifth, that home run would have loomed much larger.
Final linescore: Furman finished with 9 runs on 9 hits and commmitted a pair of errors. Dayton had 3 runs on 8 hits and likewise, committed 2 errors.
The two teams resume their three-game series tomorrow at 1 pm, with enough positives from opening day to complement what’s hoped to be a quality start by junior lefthander Mason Kutruff.
“I told our guys (pitchers) after the game…this is not who we are, but who we were today,” added Romick. “Too many free passes with four walks and four hit batsmen. It’s all a learning experience and every failure gives you an opportunity to adapt. Whether they pitched today or not, just learn from what happened against a good-hitting team.”
High Flyers: Second baseman Nick Ryan, shortstop Brantley Johnson, and right fielder Connor Echols were the hitting stars of the day, garnering between them six of the Flyers eight hits. Echols’ eighth inning homer was his career first, and the first of the season. Freshman first baseman Tate Hagan was on base twice with a pair of walks and lined out hard to center field in the sixth inning. Fellow frosh, Johnson, was flawless in his debut at shortstop. Junior lefthander Mason Kutruff is slated to start Saturday’s resumption of the three-game series at 1 pm.