Wildcats Open SSU Series with 30-Hit, Two-Win Doubleheader
SAVANNAH, Ga. - The Bethune-Cookman Wildcats (22-26, 14-9 MEAC) showed determination on the opening day of a crucial Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) series at Savannah State (18-28, 9-13 MEAC) on Saturday at Tiger Baseball Field, racking up 30 hits in wins of 8-2 and 7-2 over the Tigers.
“That’s the best back-to-back games we’ve played this year,” Head Coach Jason Beverlin said. “They came out ready to go, and I was very impressed with the overall mindset going into the games and the execution.”
With the an outstanding start for pitcher Keith Zuniga, the Wildcats’ offense had some cushion to build up a lead, but didn’t waste any time getting to work. While the junior right-hander pitched seven scoreless innings, the hitters got the scoring underway in the first frame.
Right fielder Josh Johnson reached base as a hit batter on the first pitch of the game and went on to score on a fielding error by SSU second baseman Mike McHugh on first baseman Eric Sams’ first hit of the day. Sams would score from second on third baseman Jordan Robinson’s RBI single to center field, pushing the Wildcats ahead 2-0.
In the third, three consecutive singles sent Sams to the plate once again on Robinson’s RBI to center field, forcing the Tigers to pull starter Austin Denney after 81 pitches through three frames.
SSU reliever Zach McCormack held the Wildcats for two innings, but couldn’t keep B-CU silent for long. Catcher Zach Olszewski led off the sixth with a single to center field and came in on designated hitter Austin Garcia’s RBI single to left field to give B-CU the 4-0 advantage.
The Wildcats followed up in the seventh with their biggest inning, sparked by a leadoff double by second baseman Matt Noble to left field. Noble went on to cross the plate on a Julian Santos sacrifice fly; the Wildcats’ first out. Olszewski was on the other end of the exchange in this frame, sending Robinson home with an RBI single to left field and Bryant Munoz capped the scoring with an RBI single to bring Shaun McCarty home for the 7-0 lead.
B-CU wrapped its scoring with an 8-0 advantage in the eighth as Robinson capitalized on Sams’ leadoff single with an RBI single to the shortstop.
As Zuniga’s outing extended into the eighth, carrying a one-hit shutout, the Tigers finally got something going as SSU used three consecutive hits to score two runs in the frame. Christopher Waltermire took over for Zuniga and collected a strikeout to close the frame, recording three consecutive outs in the ninth to end the 8-2 series-opening victory.
Zuniga (6-3) earned the victory, pitching seven and a third innings with three strikeouts, one walk and two earned runs. Denney (5-3) took the loss for SSU, pitching three innings.
Pitching strength and big offense remained consistent in the second game of the doubleheader, as starter Montana Durapau kept the Tigers off the board for five innings, and again B-CU took an early advantage.
The Wildcats made a big statement early, as Noble capped off three consecutive hits in the first with a two-run double deep into left center. Noble again made his presence felt in the third, firing a two-run homer beyond the left center wall for the 4-0 lead.
Center fielder Jake Welch crossed the plate for the Wildcats in the sixth on a Munoz single to right field, pushing B-CU ahead 5-0.
The Tigers finally got on the board in the sixth, snapping a 14-inning scoreless streak for Durapau and a one-hit outing. Capitalizing on a leadoff walk, SSU top hitter Tre Sikes logged a two-run double deep into left field.
However, the Wildcats were quick to respond, opening the seventh against reliever Ryan McCranie with three consecutive hits, including Robinson’s two-run single to center field, bringing Sams and Noble in for the 7-2 B-CU lead.
Passing the pitch count century mark, Durapau (9-0) headed back out for the seventh, downing the Tigers in order for his third complete game victory of the season. The senior fanned a career-high 11 hitters in seven innings, walking two and allowing two earned runs on three hits. For the Tigers, starter Brandon Whitmore (4-5) took the loss, throwing six innings with five strikeouts and five earned runs.
“Take your pick as to who the player of the game is,” Beverlin said. “So many guys came up big in big situations. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
The Wildcats batted .400 at the plate in the strongest offensive doubleheader of the season. Leading the way, Sams went 7-for-8 with six runs scored, tying a career high with a 4-for-5 performance in the opener. Noble put in a solid performance as well, batting 5-for-8 with three doubles a home run and four RBI. In addition, Robinson went 4-for-9 with five RBI.
The Wildcats and Tigers return for the finale on Sunday (May 4) at 1 p.m. to not only conclude the series, but possibly determine the top seed in the Southern division in the MEAC tournament. A win for the Wildcats would give them the outright divisional title.
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