After dropping three of four games in a four-game series to defending national champion West Chester University on April 5 and 6, Shippensburg University baseball coach Matt Jones challenged his team on its ability to finish out games.
Despite a poor start that left SU down seven runs early, the Raiders dug deep and rallied all the way back from three seven-run deficits to down Shepherd University, 12-11, in 10 innings on Tuesday, April 10 at Fairchild Field.
The Raiders (12–16) slugged their way back into the game, using three home runs — one each by Nick Spangler, Tommy Baggett and Dalton Hoiles — before the Raiders tied the game at 11-11, sending the game to extra innings. Designated hitter Jack Goertzen reached base five times on the day, going 4-for-5 with a double, an RBI, two runs scored and a walk. The Raiders wasted no time in the extra frame, loading the bases before Baggett roped a fly-ball to right-center field that landed between the fielders, giving SU the win.
“We challenged them this week, we felt like we needed to stay in games, play hard and finish the game,” Jones said. “There have been times when its 9-2 and we wouldn’t have done that. They responded to what we talked about and did a good job. We’re proud of them and hopefully that carries into this weekend.”
Shepherd (17–12) wasted no time jumping on SU starting pitcher Aaron Cleveland, grabbing two RBI singles, an RBI double and a two-run home run by Justin Smith on its way to the 7-0 lead. Cleveland, who lasted just 1 1/3 innings, gave up seven earned runs on eight hits while striking out a batter. Cleveland threw most of his pitches for strikes, but good hitting by the Rams put SU in a sizable hole.
The Rams’ lead ballooned to 11-4 by the sixth inning, as Shepherd put up runs in five of the first six innings. Shepherd was only blanked in the fourth inning, before SU pitchers Kyle Lysy and Jack Jenkens each threw scoreless innings out of the bullpen.
While frustrated, the Raiders refused to give up after the torrid start by the Shepherd offense. After Shepherd starter Ryan Potts left in the second inning since he would be used to start a weekend matchup, the Raiders were able to find a rhythm against the Rams bullpen.
The Raiders put together their first big inning in the sixth as Spangler and Hoiles both hit solo-shots to bring SU within five runs. In the seventh, Baggett smashed a two-run home run to left center, while Cash Gladfelter drove in a run with an RBI single in the eighth. After eight innings, the Raiders trailed by just one run, 11-10. SU later tied the game on when Grant Hoover scored on a wild pitch by Shepherd’s Smith.
“In that last inning we had a chance to walk it off in the bottom of the ninth,” Hoiles said. “The dugout was going crazy. It can be hard to focus sometimes in the box. I loved our energy and I think this team feeds off energy. I know that if we can keep up that energy, the sticks will start keeping too.”
SU pitcher Zack Sims was masterful out of the pen for the Raiders, throwing two shut-out innings in relief to grab the victory. Sims, a weekend starter for SU, allowed just two hits in the outing, while striking out a batter.
Overall, it was a huge day for offense, as both teams registered 18 hits on the day. Spangler and Hoiles both finished the day with three hits. Spangler finished the day 3-for-5 with the home run and two runs scored, while Hoiles went 3-for-6 with his sixth home run of the year, tying his career high for home runs.
“Sometimes you just try not to hit homers and they just kind of happen,” Hoiles said. “I didn’t know that was my career-high, but that makes it a little bit more exciting now.”
Baggett finished the game 2-for-5 with a home-run, three RBIs and the game-winning hit. Gladfelter also had two hits.
Goertzen’s effort in the seventh spot helped set the tone when the lineup turned over for Spangler and Hoiles to have their big days. Goertzen, who hit a three-run home run last weekend against West Chester, had struggled recently, so the 4-for-5 day was just what the doctor ordered for him.
“I’ve been slumping a bit, but getting on base is a good start,” Goertzen said. “We’ve got a magical team that can do some big things. Everyone can hit 1-9.”
Overall, for an SU offense that came into the season expecting to score in bunches, the 18-hit performance is one that the Raiders hope builds some momentum for a team that lost eight of its 16 losses by a lone run.
“That was the expectation going into the season, that we were going to score runs,” Jones said. “It was good to see it come about. I think they’re starting to see what they can do, and they know that they are never out of a game. When you are down seven runs to a really good team and you can find a way to shut them down and believe you can [win], you’re going to win some games that way.”
“We lost a lot of one-run games,” Hoiles said. “I think a win like this, coming back from a big deficit like that will bring a lot of energy. I’m hoping we keep rolling and win some more games.”
With the win, SU picks up a good regional win over a tough Shepherd team, while hoping to send the momentum into a crucial Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) matchup with Lock Haven University in a four-game series over the weekend.
“Momentum, I think, is big,” Goertzen said. “I think we learned a lot in this win. I think keeping that intensity late in games is going to help us in the long run.”
“It was huge for them,” Jones said. “We had some guys who were struggling and confidence wise this was big for them.”
The Raiders swept Lock Haven in a four-game series to return to .500 at 16-16 on the season.