Tiger baseball picks up two wins at 'Pack the Park'
By KLINT SPILLER
Everyone was all smiles in the Fort Hays State University dugout.
The Tigers were leading 5-0 and weren't getting much resistance from their bottom-of-the-MIAA-barrel opponent, Lincoln (Mo.) University, in front of their best crowd of the season with Pack the Park Night at Larks Park.
Those smiles stopped in the third inning when Lincoln's Ben Stewart stepped to the plate and hit a line drive into the face of FHSU's ace pitcher Alex Ellison.
Ellison dropped to the turf and rolled over with his stomach facing the turf and his hands clutching his face.
"Anytime you see a pitcher get hit at that distance at this level of play, it's scary," said FHSU head coach Steve Johnson. "Until you see the result, you don't know how bad it is."
Ellison ended up being OK, but losing Ellison took away FHSU's momentum. The Blue Tigers scored five runs in the next two innings and made it a ball game. The Tigers had to battle down the stretch to eek out a 6-5 seven-inning Game 1 victory.
"We lost momentum and lost our swings," Johnson said. "The complexion of that game changed right then. We are fortunate we stayed together and fought and got a great relief outing out of Nathan Briar and found a way to win."
FHSU improved to 17-14 and 13-13 in the Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, while Lincoln dropped to 3-21, 2-17 after Game 1.
Sophomore left hander Nathan Zimmerman replaced Ellison, who got hit in the nose but didn't have a fracture, but Zimmerman's appearance didn't go well and was brief.
After Ellison gave up a single off his face, Zimmerman allowed that runner and three others to score on four hits in two thirds of an inning before getting pulled.
"He missed a lot of pitches in the middle of the zone, and they put good swings on them," Johnson said.
Briar, a junior right hander, replaced him and finished the game.
Briar gave up a run in the fifth, but threw two shutout innings after that, including a three-strikeout seventh inning. Briar (1-1) earned the win, allowing a run on two hits while striking out six.
"It was outstanding," Johnson said. "He battled some trouble in the one inning when he gave up a run. To come out when we had a lead in the seventh and strike out the side, that means he's dialed in and wants to win the game."
FHSU scored its first run off an RBI single from center fielder Clayton Garland.
It might have turned into a double, but Garland thought it was a home run so he trotted around the bases. He made it a third of the way to second when Lincoln's right fielder nearly threw him out. Garland had to dive back to first to miss the tag.
Garland's offense carried over to the second inning, as the Tigers scored four runs on four hits.
But after that, FHSU struggled to find its offense, going hitless the next two innings.
"We started out very good offensively," Johnson said. "For some reason -- we've done it a few times in the past -- we'll relax a little bit. Sometimes, it's tough to restart it."
In the bottom of the fifth, FHSU was tied 5-5 and needed an offensive lift.
Two FHSU seniors delivered.
First baseman Ryan Busboom doubled to left field and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Three batters later, third baseman Kelton Rule brought him home with an RBI single to right field.
"It's nice to see two seniors step up and perform like that," Johnson said.
Rule was one of three Tigers with two hits on the evening.
Junior left fielder Jordan Miller finished 2 of 2 at the plate with two runs scored and a 2-RBI home run in the second inning. Rule was 2 of 3 with an RBI and a run, and Garland finished 2 of 4 with an RBI.
The Tiger offense exploded for 15 runs on 17 hits to take a 15-2 win in seven innings via the run-rule of the scheduled nine-inning contest.
Jordan Miller drove in five runs as he went 4 of 4 at the plate with two runs scored, and Busboom homered and drove in a pair of runs.
The Tigers scored in every inning, putting up four runs in the fifth and sixth.
Tayler Davis (5-2) picked up the win in seven innings. He gave up two earned runs on four hits with seven strikeouts and one walk.
The two teams finish the three-game series with a 1 p.m. contest today at Larks Park.