While much of the Northeast coast, including Kutztown, Pa., was being hammered with snow, winds and frigid temperatures this past weekend, the KU baseball team was arriving in Wingate, N.C. to 60 degree weather and a fresh start to their 2013 season.
After an impressive 2012 season, the Golden Bears look forward to another successful season backed by a deep pitching staff and a well-balanced offense.
KU’s trip down south featured a three-game series against Wingate University, a private Division II school located in southern N.C. In game one on Saturday, junior Jason Henderson got the nod to start the game pitching. After a successful run as the team’s closer last season, Henderson appears the front-runner to be this year’s ace. In a quick first inning, both sides went down in order.
Travis Kreitz, the team’s right fielder, led off the second inning and roped a double over the center-fielder’s head. Next up, Matt Albaugh singled through the right side, scoring Kreitz to give KU their first run of the season. After a John Dockins single, Brandon Shurr hit into a fielder’s choice and scored Albaugh to put the team up 2-0. Henderson again retired the Bulldogs in order in the bottom of the second, and the Golden Bears’ offense stayed hot going into the third.
Ricky Gorrell, the club’s starting third basemen, led off the third inning with a single to left field, but he was picked off at second after Brett Hauck was hit by a pitch. After a Carson Baker walk loaded the bases, Albaugh singled to the left side, scoring Hauck and earning Albaugh his second RBI of the game. With the bases still loaded, the designated hitter, Brandon Hickey, hit a two-RBI single to give KU three runs on four hits and an error in the top of the third.
In Wingate’s half of the third, the shortstop, Godinez, hit a double to bring in the Bulldogs’ first run of the game. The next batter, Eric Serra, grounded into a 4-6-3 double play that was beautifully executed by the Golden Bears’ infield to end the inning.
Wingate’s bats remained hot in the fourth where they scored three more runs on four hits. After four complete innings, KU led 5-4.
In the bottom of the fifth, KU head coach Chris Blum motioned for the lefty Colin Holmes to take over the pitching duties for Henderson. Holmes, a bullpen specialist, struck out the first hitter he faced in the fifth inning. The next hitter, Serra, reached second on a throwing error by the usually sure-handed Hauck and was hit in by a Brian Yeung double to right center to knot the score at five.
With one out in the Kutztown sixth, Gorrell doubled to right field with his second hit of the game. He finished the contest going 2-3 with two runs scored. Kyle Stoudt, a preseason All-Atlantic Region pick, knocked in Gorrell with a single up the middle to give KU the lead 6-5.
The Golden Bears entered the seventh inning stretch with a 6-5 lead but went down in order after three ground-outs.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh, Wingate’s Yeung doubled to left field, and Blum opted to intentionally walk the next hitter. After the walk, pitcher Jordan Garcia, also a lefty, came in to relieve Holmes but let up a single to the next batter, and the game was tied at six.
After a Gorrell walk in the eighth, Stoudt singled to third base, advancing Gorrell to third and eventually scoring him on a throwing error during the play. Baker struck out to end the inning, but not before the Golden Bears took the lead on the unearned run.
The back-and-forth manner of the game continued in the bottom of the eighth, when Brad Cherry hit a solo home-run to tie the game at seven. After the bomb, the Wingate crowd was booming, but Garcia managed to set the Bulldogs down in order to keep the score tied going into the final inning.
To lead off the top of the ninth, Kreitz was plunked in the knee by a pitch and awarded first base. After a perfectly placed sacrifice bunt by Albaugh, Dockins stepped to the plate with Kreitz in scoring position. Dockins proved clutch, knocking in Kreitz with a single up the middle for the go-a-ahead RBI.
The Golden Bears intensity level was through the roof going into the last inning with only three outs until their first victory of the season. To start the ninth inning, the ball was given to the emphatic sophomore pitcher Connor Wing. After inducing a fly-out to the lead-off hitter, Wing struck out the next two Wingate batters to earn the save and give the Golden Bears the first victory of their young season.
Wing appeared content with the KU victory but emphasized the importance of the rest of the season.
“I think it’s good to have an opening win.” Wing said. “It not only helps team moral but sets the pace with what we’re going to do for the season, and hopefully there’s plenty of more wins to come. We have unfinished business and we’re not stopping at Regionals this year.”
In game two of the double header on Saturday, Kutztown lost 6-3 in seven innings. The Golden Bears managed to out-hit the Bulldogs’ 9-8, but Wingate rode the strong arm of Vaughan who threw a complete game and earned his first win of the season.
In the final game of the weekend on Sunday, the Wingate hitters came out on fire scoring five runs in the first two innings. The Golden Bears were never able to construct a rally and lost the game in a blow-out 13-3.
KU’s starting pitcher, Shurr, surrendered eight earned runs on eight hits in 2.1 innings and was credited with the loss. Six total pitchers threw in the team’s loss.
Although the team lost the series 2-1, there were many bright spots for the Golden Bears in their opening weekend. Stoudt led the team at the plate with seven hits including one double and four RBI’s. Hauck also contributed with five hits and three runs scored.
KU travels to Newport News, Va. for the Builder Invitational on Thursday, Feb. 21, where they are guaranteed at least four scheduled games over a four-day period.
By Bill Felo