UD closed its opening baseball weekend hoping for some good news. What they got was a good whooping at the hands of an SEC powerhouse, the Kentucky Wildcats.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — Tony Vittorio didn’t lapse into slumber Sunday morning until 3:30, then it was breakfast at 7:15, bus departure for the ball park at 7:45, infield practice at 8:30, game at 10 a.m.
Then it was nightmare time for the University of Dayton baseball coach when his team took the field to play the University of Kentucky.
Vittorio didn’t sleep Saturday night because his team had lost the first two games of the Spartanburg Classic to Stony Brook, 11-6, and to the University of South Carolina-Upstate, 6-4.
“That’s the way it always is,” he said. “Sleep comes with wins and no sleep comes with losses. When your record is tattooed on your forehead and your livelihood depends on wins that’s how it is and how it always will be.”
It was a foreboding omen from the beginning when team athletic trainer Cody Lucas, the guy who takes care of the health and well-being of the athletes, couldn’t keep his Saturday night dinner down and was so woozy Sunday he spent the game on the comfort of a press box couch instead of keeping a watchful eye on the athletes from the dugout.
When it was over, Lucas was sicker and the Flyers were dazed after taking a 15-2 beating from UK.
“Overmatched,” said Vittorio. He could have added overcome and overwhelmed.
Amazingly, it was 0-0 after three as UD starter Zach Beaver put together a credible start. In five innings he held the talented Wildcats to three runs.
And it was still only 3-0 after six. Then in the seventh a stern wind began blowing out to right field and UK used it to the fullest extent possible.
They hit eight home runs in their final two at-bats. Eight! EIGHT!! And not once did a Flyers pitcher throw inside to make it uncomfortable for the UK hitters, who were as relaxed in the batter’s box as though sitting in a La-Z-boy recliner sipping mint juleps.
They drilled three homers in a six-run seventh inning and five more in a six-run eighth inning.
When UK left fielder Tristan Pompey, a freshman whose brother plays for the Toronto Blue Jays, came to bat in the eighth he needed only a single to hit for the cycle.
He already had a double, triple and a home run. Instead of banging a single for the cycle, he hit another home run. For the day he had 13 total bases and four RBI. Pompey buried the Flyers the way Mount Vesuvius buried the city of Pompei.
The Canada-born Pompey was a 31st-round draft pick last June by the Minnesota Twins but didn’t sign and elected to sign at UK.
When third baseman JaVon Shelby came to bat in the eighth, he had two hits, including a home run. He added a second home run to add to UK’s 20-hit total.
Shelby, a Lexington, Ky., native was drafted after high school in 2013 by the Milwaukee Brewers in the 37th round but chose to stay home and play at UK.
On Sunday morning at breakfast, Vittorio asked a couple of media members where they ate Saturday night and was told they dined at Five Guys & Fries, a couple of blocks from the team hotel.
“I wish I had five guys who could hit,” he said with a laugh. He needed to borrow a few from the long list of talented hitters on the UK squad.
UD Director of Baseball Operations Fred Worth opened a package of long, slender Twizzlers candy before the game and said, “Sticks for hits.” Not enough Flyers accepted his offer.
The Flyers had only six hits and their first run came via two errors by UK in the eighth inning when the score was 9-1. The second UD run came on Nick Gobert’s two-out home run in the ninth, his second home run in the three games and he came close to two more.
The Flyers were matched against two pitchers who looked as if they belonged on John Calipari’s UK basketball team — 6-foot-7 senior Kyle Cody and 6-foot-11 freshman Sean Hjelle.
Cody is of big-league stuff and, in fact, was drafted last June in the second round by the Minnesota Twins and chose to finish his career in Lexington, Ky. He held the Flyers to no runs and three hits over seven innings, walking one and striking out eight.
When Cody warmed up in the bullpen before the game there were eight major league scouts with radar guns watching intently. He popped the numbers at 95 and 96 miles an hour and carted it with him to the mound, where he spotted his pitches with perfect accuracy.
Hjelle, as thin as a Twizzler stick, held UD to no earned runs and struck out three in his one inning, although he gave up a couple of hits. Hjelle was runnerup last year as Mr. Baseball in Minnesota.
The Flyers were perfection on defense for the third straight game, no errors. And they concocted the play of the game.
In the fourth inning UK’s Gunner McNeil led with a single to right field. Pompey shot one off the center field wall and UD’s Glenn Jones retriever it, whirled and threw. McNeill rounded third and fled for home and shortstop Nick Weighbright ripped his throw homeward.
Catcher Matt Pollard caught it and applied a conclusive tag to the face of the sliding McNell, which at the time preserved the 0-0 tie. But the landslide soon followed.
So, fitful sleep won’t come soon for Vittorio after his Flyers begin the season 0-and-3. But they won’t be facing many teams as talent-stuffed as the University of Kentucky.
* UD Flyer baseball is sponsored, in part, by team members of the class of 2004!