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Tiger baseball splits with Pitt

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

Fort Hays State University baseball coach Steve Johnson thought his team had a "great" team meeting before Thursday's doubleheader against Pittsburg State University at Larks Park. Johnson met with his four captains first, all seniors -- ace Alex Ellison, closer Kyle Leroy, infielder Ryan Busboom and catcher Jay Sanders.

Then the Tigers split two contests with the Gorillas, falling 5-2 in the first game before they won 6-2 in the second contest at Larks Park. Fort Hays used just two pitchers for the day with Ellison and senior Tayler Davis each throwing complete games.

As well, the Tigers played without senior second baseman Chris Santoscoy, a four-year starter who injured his hamstring Wednesday at University of Nebraska-Kearney.

As well, Johnson saw some improvements from what he discussed in the team meeting, but realized the team still has adjustments. Fort Hays moved to 12-12, 9-11 MIAA, while Pittsburg State bumped to 12-9, 9-8 MIAA. The series finale is scheduled for today.

"Basically told (the captains) what I saw in them," Johnson said. "When we were managing to get wins, they weren't enjoying them. They were relieved, and every time we lose, it was devastating to them. We had high expectations to start the season to get into a regional, and we are not in that position right now, so we talked about just backing off, not worrying about a loss, but going out and playing baseball the right way and not getting tight."

The Game 1 loss represented the first home loss to an unranked team this year; FHSU is now 6-1 at home against unranked teams. The victory ended a season-worst five-game losing streak. Ellison allowed five single runs (four earned) with two strikeouts and no walks and battled through several jams to minimize damage. Easily the team's most consistent starter, Ellison dropped to 2-4 with a 4.07 earned-run average.

"I still felt we were tight in the first game," Johnson said.

"Alex Ellison battled for us. He gave us what we had today. We just couldn't get the big hit, couldn't get the extra base hit. To their credit as a group, they stuck with what we talked about. Tayler Davis came out and was just awesome."

Davis has alternated great outings with subpar showings. In his six starts, Davis has three outings where he has allowed two earned runs in 22.1 innings. In the other three outings, Davis has pitched 7.2 innings and allowed 18 runs. This time, he mixed 84 strikes with 123 pitches.

"Didn't overthrow and recognized when he started to overthrow," Johnson said. "He has got an incredibly loose arm, has got good velocity and he can pitch effortlessly. When he tries to overthrow, he gets off mechanically, and you will see a lot of low misses, and you will see spray some arm-side high. He has changed arm slots over the last year."

Position-wise, FHSU shuffled a couple of players without Santoscoy, normally the No. 2 hitter. Santoscoy, bothered by the hamstring most of the year, is expected to miss today's game, but should return next weekend against Southwest Baptist (Mo.) University. Senior shortstop Sam Thornton moved up the second spot from No. 9 and went 2 of 6 with two runs scored and three RBIs. In the second game, he was 1 of 3 with a run scored and three RBIs, including a key two-run double in the seventh inning. Senior Shane Wade homered as the Tigers scored one run in the second, two in the third and three in the seventh. Sanders caught both games of the doubleheader and had a 15-pitch at-bat and double in Game 2.

In Game 1, "I thought we played decent, we just didn't get the big hits," Thornton said. "In the past, if we lose the first game, the second game we usually don't even come out and play. But today proved that we got down in the first game, and everyone was still heads up for the second game. It was a lot better than it has been."

Senior Kelton Rule moved over to second base from third base and played error-free ball.

"You get pretty similar pitches," Thornton said, comparing the No. 2 hole to batting ninth. "It's the same kind of role, you are trying to move guys over, score guys. It wasn't too bad. It was pretty easy. (Rule) played pretty good defense. It wasn't that much different than when Chris plays. Communication-wise, you've got to talk a little bit more because you don't play with each other as much, but besides that, it was pretty much the same."