A freshman pitcher came up aces, and the bullpen got a final tuneup before this weekends conference opener with Richmond. Dayton beat Bowling Green Tuesday, 3-1.
Dayton – When I last personally saw the Dayton Flyers a month ago, they were pounding people with their bats – while the people they were pounding were pounding right back on the Flyers’ young, but talented pitching staff.
In fact, for the first seven games of the season against southern teams in southern climates, the Flyers were hitting over .300 and pitching at around a 6.00 earned run clip. Games they won they won ugly; and games they lost they lost ugly, too. It was akin to kissing one’s sister. You close your eyes, but you still know the truth.
Then they came home to the brutal weather of the past two weeks, winning two of three against Western Illinois, and losing three of four against Ball State. The bats simply went cold with the weather while the pitching improved.
“We weren’t hitting, I’m convinced, because of the weather,” says Flyer coach Tony Vittorio. “But the opponents weren’t hitting, either.”
6-11 entering Tuesday’s titanic struggle with the 2-14 Bowling Green Falcons, Vittorio and the Flyers badly needed a positive tuneup before opening A-10 Conference play this Friday at Woerner Field against the Richmond Spiders.
And guess what? Freshman pitcher, catcher, and just all-around handyman Josh Nixon gave ‘em what the Temptations wrote about in their hit, My Girl…a little sunshine on a cloudy day. Nixon, a former all-state quarterback for the 2014 Division IV state football champion Minster Wildcats, pitched four innings of 3-hit, scoreless baseball, striking out four with no walks, and put the Flyers on the path to an eventual 3-1 win.
In fact, while Nixon pitched the sun was shining and the temperatures hovered near 60. As soon as he left the game after the fourth the skies turned gray, the wind picked up, fahrenheit dropped, and by game’s end it started to rain. All this…if you believe in omens.
But the bullpen dealt with the omens.
The succession of R.J. Wagner, Masahi Sakamoto, Pete Rozman, Kevin Piersol, and Jordan Cox covered the final five innings with four-hit baseball, striking out 7, and with just one walk. Only Jordan surrendered a run, a tainted tally in the top of the ninth with runners on first and second on a muffed double-play ball, followed by an RBI single by BG centerfielder Jake Wilson.
Other than that…no problems.
“Josh Nixon was good today,” said starting catcher Bailey Montoya, who offensively had a good day himself with two of the Flyers’ total of seven hits. “He threw an inning over the weekend against Ball State, Coach gave him the ball today and he did well. He hit his spots, he had good command of his curveball, and his fastball, too. He threw it really well.
“It’s impressive because we’ve struggled with MAC teams the past couple of years,” added Montoya. “But it was impressive that he came out today, got the rock, and did the job.”
That’s one opinion, of course, but the one that you hang your hat on is that of pitching coach, Ryne Romick.
“He’s a competitor,” said Romick. “We’ve worked him in over the past couple of weeks and he wanted the ball again. He’s looked good. He’s got a good feel for the ball, he has two breaking pitches, but the best thing is he fills up the zone. He makes you earn everything you get. I think that he got a little tired by the end – we stretched him out a bit – but he was really good today.”
They got just enough offense to make it sunny while Nixon was in the game. The Flyers scored a run in the bottom of the first on an error by BG shortstop Nick Glanzman on Connor Echols’ ground ball, a walk to Robbie Doring, a couple of wild pitches that scored Echols…and then a ground ball to the second baseman on which Doring set sail for home plate. He beat the throw by BG’s Derek Drewes, and clearly beat the tag attempt by catcher Justin Mott. But plate umpire Randy Bachman was listening to The Temptations, too, and missed it from here to there, calling Doring out.
They added a run in the bottom of the second…on a walk to left fielder Mitch Coughlan and an RBI double by Montoya.
And in the fifth, with one out, Doring made sure Bachman was watching with a hooking line drive down the left field line that left the park just inside the foul pole for his first home run of the season.
Bowling Green’s lone run came in the top of the ninth when freshman Jordan Cox walked a hitter, hit one between the shoulder blades, threw a perfect double-play ball that handcuffed second baseman Nicky Ryan – and then had Jake Wilson line a ball out of the park, but foul, down the right field line before stroking an RBI single to left field, scoring pinch runner R.J. Williams. With runners on first and third and two out the next hitter, Joe McGuinness, struck out to end the game.
“Good win for us,” said Vittorio while nursing a weather headache in the clubhouse afterwards. “Obviously we were struggling with our pitching depth early, so we decided to fire up Nixon. He’s a Minster boy who played for Coach Wiss up there, who’s a UD boy, and his curveball was good and he spotted his fastball. Nixon was good, and being from Minster he’s been brought up wanting to be a part of things. He wants to help you win.”
“We haven’t been hitting because of the weather, so you have to get the ball on the ground, steal some bases, and grind things out to make things happen. And that’s the way it was today. Hopefully the weather warms up and we can play some true baseball again.”
With sub-20 win seasons back to back, he likes his chances with league play beginning on Friday against Richmond. Vittorio believes…that this is a better team.
“I’ve liked these guys since day one,” he said. “There’s great energy, they compete, but we’ve got to get better. We need the seniors to take some ownership of things, and we need the younger guys to bite a little bit more. But I like this team.
“The pitching rotation has settled in now. That was a question the first three weekends and today’s game was all about pitching – and it’s gonna’ be when the wind and weather is like it was today. Our pitchers did a great job.”
And it started with a freshman from Minster, who had his coach humming that old familiar tune as he left the ballpark for home.
Sunshine…on a cloudy day.