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It’s no secret that Radford University’s baseball team can hit, and with stars like junior third baseman Matt Mack, sophomore outfielder Cory Turner, sophomore infielder Jeff Kemp and junior outfielder Matt Hillsinger leading the way, it’s hard to stop the offensive firepower that RU brings to the plate.
But it’s also hard to win when your bullpen gives up 12 runs while your offense strands a dozen runners, leaving runs on the field instead of batting them in.
The Highlanders opened up conference play against league rival Charleston Southern University in a three game series with one game on the afternoon of Friday, March 25, and a special double-header on Saturday, March 26. RU came into the weekend cruising, owning a 13-7 record in non-conference play.
The Highs’ start to league play ran into a brick wall with CSU as they managed to sweep the surging RU team with a combination of stifling play from their starting pitchers and a high-octane offensive attack.
The game got off to a rocky start for the Highs who had virtually no problem collecting hits, but they did have an issue keeping up with CSU’s high-powered offense. RU batted .326 in the game and drove in six runs in five innings, but was held scoreless by CSU’s relievers in the last four frames.
Senior third baseman Alex Guerra went 2-5 and notched two RBI, but was left on base three different times in the game. Kemp went 2-4, knocked in an RBI, and also scored a run for the Highs in a losing effort.
RU’s pitching woes were the real story of this game. Sophomore starter Eddie Butler previously owning a 3-0 record on the season, was taken for a loop by the CSU lineup, giving up five earned runs over three innings. When called upon, the Highs’ bullpen couldn’t provide an answer to the hot CSU batters, who tallied 12 runs over eight innings, including a five run outburst in the second.
By the end of the ninth, the score read 12-6 in favor of CSU. The Highs couldn’t dote on the loss for too long, though. They had a doubleheader the next day against the same team who had just given them a serious wakeup call.
The double-header was an opportunity at revenge for the faltering Highs, who were still reeling from the shellacking of the day before. The first game proved to be an extra inning thriller, while the second game featured a low-scoring duel by two pitching aces.
Game one featured RU getting off to a positive start. Hillsinger, went 3-5 and notched an RBI, while Mack and senior catcher, Robert Lamas, both hit doubles in the game. On the backs of their stars, RU jumped out in front early to grab a 3-2 lead heading into the third inning.
A pitching duel ensued with junior RU starter Mark Peterson pitching seven innings, giving up three earned runs and eight hits. Each team scored just one more run over the next few innings, giving the Highs a 4-3 advantage heading into the bottom of the ninth. There, CSU scored by driving in a runner from third base with a single to tie the game. The run ensured that the game would go into extra innings.
The Highs missed chances to extend their lead when they left runners in scoring positions in the seventh, eighth, ninth and 10th innings.
The nail in the coffin came in the bottom of the 10th when a throwing error by Kemp allowed CSU to score the winning run. CSU had won their second game of the series in a nail-biter, and would attempt the sweep just a few hours later in the second game of the day’s double-header.
Game two featured a pitching duel by two starting aces, including RU senior starter Bobby Bolling, who pitched for over seven innings while giving up just two earned runs. Bolling has had a particularly good start to the season, as he owns an ERA of just 2.50 while walking only seven batters over forty innings so far this season. Bolling struck out four batters in the contest, while walking none of the Flames’ hitters during the day.
Through five innings the game was tied at one run apiece, but CSU broke the game open when they scored a run in each of the next two innings. RU was simply unable to figure out CSU’s right-handed pitcher, who went the distance against the Highs while throwing over 140 pitches.
Continuing his breakout year, Hillsinger went 2-4 for the Highs, stealing two bases and hitting his fifth homerun of the year while providing the only offense to speak of for RU in the game. By the end of the ninth, the score read 3-1, CSU.
The Highs suffered a blistering away-series sweep, bringing their record down to 13-10 overall, with an 0-3 start to Big South conference play. The Highs’ next game comes on March 29 when they face Virginia Tech in Blacksburg.