They hit, they came back from adversity, and frankly they could have won. But sketchy pitching ended up costing the Flyers their first win of the year.
Greenville, South Carolina – On the bus ride to Latham Stadium Saturday morning someone pointed out signs along the side of the road advertising a reptile show in town this weekend. Apropos!
Four hours later the Dayton Flyers must have certainly felt snake-bit as they squandered a 7-run, 10-hit offensive outburst to lose the second game of their weekend series with Furman, 9-7. The problem in so many words – their pitching on this day could not withstand prosperity. Pure and simple.
It could have been – it should have been – an omen when Flyers leadoff hitter Nicky Ryan drilled the first strike he saw for a leadoff homer off Paladins’ starter Grant Schuermann. Dayton took the early 1-0 lead.
But not for long. Junior starting pitcher Mason Kutruff promptly coughed up that lead by walking the leadoff hitter in the bottom of the inning, followed by a base hit, followed by a two-out, two-run double by Paladins catcher Cam Whitehead. Furman came back to add another run in the bottom of the second to lead 3-1.
But this is the not Dayton offense of the past two years. They immediately went back to work on Schuermann in the top of the third as the batting order came to the plate for the second time. The Flyers just as promptly put a three-spot on the board with base hit by Connor Echols, followed by another hit by Robbie Doring, a base hit by first baseman Brandon Smith and a three-base error on the ball in centerfield. Smith circled the bases, chasing Echols and Doring home – a Little League home run, if you will – and the jubilant Flyers again led, 4-3.
But not for long.
Kutruff proceeded to the bottom of the inning by giving up a double, a walk, a single to load the bases…a sac fly to score a run and tie the score…before being lifted for reliever Dom Golubiewski, who inherited runners on first and second. Golubiewski promptly gave up single, a fielders choice, a walk and a single to center to score two more runs before retiring the side. Suddenly Furman led 7-3 and things looked an awful like the darkest days of 2016.
It stayed that way for a couple of innings until the Flyers came to bat in the top of the sixth. Tate Hagan got on to an error, and back-to-back doubles by Mitch Coughlin and pinch-hitter Brian Wood emptied the bases and drew the deficit back to single run, 7-6.
Lefthander Tyler Henry, the Flyers’ best pitcher of a year ago in terms of winning percentage (4-1), came on to pitch the sixth and immediately served up a two run home run to Furman outfielder Sky Overton and the lead went back to 9-6.
Henry’s day was done, to be replaced by freshman Jordan Cox, one of two frosh hurlers out of Zionsville, Indiana. His high school teammate, R.J. Wagner, had pitched impressively on Friday, and Cox one-upped his Hoosier classmate. He pitched a scoreless 7th and 8th, allowing but one hit while striking out 2 and walking a hitter – and he hit a batter. His fastball was untouchable, consistently pegging the radar guns behind home plate at 89, 90, and as high as 91, his top speed of the day. He was, in a word, bold and impressive.
Meanwhile, in the top of the eighth third baseman Pat Meehan had tomahawked a long home run to left field to cut the deficit to a manageable 9-7 going to the ninth. But Furman closer Jake Crawford made short work of the top of the order to maintain the lead and deny Dayton of what should have been their first win of the year.
Tony Vittorio was frustrated, and anything but pleased, despite the offensive outburst which showed that this particular Flyer team is one that can both take a punch, and deliver one, as well.
“Seven runs in a Saturday game like this one should be enough to win it,” he said dryly, without a drop of his characteristic humor. “I was pleased with the way we swung the bats and fought back, but in a game like this you have to have shutdown innings by your pitching, and we didn’t get that today. You have to win more than the one inning that we won today with Pat Meehan’s homer in the eighth…when we shut them down with a freshman (Cox).
“Besides Jordan Cox I don’t think we pitched well enough to win, and for the second day in a row. We didn’t get the job done on the mound.”
It’s only game 2 of a 56-game season, but Vittorio was candid to speak about the need for a better performance from his starting pitchers.
“The discouraging part about today was it was an upperclassman, and it’s not the first time it’s happened. That’s the disappointing part.
“But we also had some young guys for the second day in a row that went out there on the mound for the first time and competed. When they were in high school six months ago they felt they were good, and they’re going out there now and they still feel like they’re good…and they’re throwing like it. Those guys are earning more mound time in a hurry – no fear, throwing with confidence.”
The loss not only negated an impressive offensive performance, but it dampened what should have been an enthusiastic response to several good defensive plays in the field – highlighted by Robbie Doring’s brilliant catch against the fence in the fourth inning that might have robbed Furman’s Sky Overton of a second home run in the game.
“We’re definitely a defensive upgrade in the outfield from last year,” added Vittorio. “We’re playing that phase of things with some consistency. We just need to have that consistency from our starters on the mound.”
The Flyers finished with 7 runs on 10 hits, they committed 2 errors and left but 3 on base. Starter Mason Kutruff took the loss and stands 0-1.
Furman won it with 9 runs, 13 hits, committed 2 errors, and left 10 on base.
The game, played in a steady drizzle, lasted 2 hours, 38 minutes.
Sunday’s finale suddenly takes on increased significance because Vittorio well remembers last year’s opening weekend in this same area, and limping home 0-3, overwhelmed by Kentucky on Sunday after a pair of competitive losses to Stoneybrook and South Carolina-Upstate.
“Overall it’s my responsibility to handle how we come out of here and the attitude we go home with after this weekend,” said Vittorio. “We have to depend on our upperclassmen to handle that, as well, but in regards to what’s happened the last couple of years we’re going to be on top of that. There’s a lot of positives to take out of today’s game. The key from here on is learning how to win and developing a lineup and pitching rotation that’s consistent and confident going into conference season.”
The Flyers will send another one of their impressive freshman arms, righthander Tyler Jones, to the mound for Sunday’s finale. Game time is 1 pm.
High Flyers: For the second day in a row both Nick Ryan and Connor Echols led the hit parade by going 2 for 5. First baseman Brandon Smith had his first start of the season and responded with a 2-hit game of his own. The three of them combined for 6 of the Flyers’ total of 10 hits. Brian Wood was mentioned by Vittorio for his clutch pinch-hit double in the sixth. Meehan, who came on as a pinch-runner in the sixth, homered in his only at bat in the eighth inning.