Four times Friday morning, the Hornets advanced a baserunner to third with less than two outs, but every time came away empty as they fell 1-0 to Tabor (Kan.) in the opening game of the NAIA World Series.
“Those are some things we take pride in all year,” Southern Poly coach Marty Lovrich said. “I don’t know if it was the environment, first-game jitters, but I thought we had some very impatient at-bats; swung early in the count. Pressure’s on the (Tabor) pitcher right there and we’re letting him off the hook early in the count.
“You’ve just got to take advantage of every opportunity, especially when it comes down to simple things like just getting a ground ball up the middle and get the run in.”
The lack of a run sent the Hornets (45-18) into an elimination game today at noon against Georgetown (Ky.), which lost to defending champion Faulkner (Ala.) — Southern Poly’s conference rival — on Friday.
It also pushed Southern Poly in the position where its existence rests on today’s game. The Hornets baseball team is the last of the university’s programs still playing, ahead of its December consolidation into Kennesaw State.
Southern Poly had its chances Friday, as Tyler Garner singled and moved to third on a throwing error with no one out in the top of the second, but he was stranded 90 feet from scoring as Tabor pitcher Junior Mustain (12-2) induced a ground ball for a double play, then a threat-ending grounder to second.
“I can’t say enough about Junior,” said Tabor coach Mark Standiford, whose team was making its World Series debut. “He did great job on the mound, made some great plays, got in some jams and was able to work out of them. He definitely pitched like a senior.”
Mustain cruised into the seventh before trouble again arose as Chris Dykes was hit by a pitch with one out and moved to third on another Bluejays error, but he was stranded when Mustain got another double-play ball.
In the eighth, Mustain left after a leadoff single by Tremayne Hardin and a sacrifice bunt by Dalton Martinez.
Tabor reliever Jean Acevedo then sent Hardin to third with an errant pickoff throw, but there the Hornets shortstop remained as Acevedo got a line out to second and, after back-to-back walks to load the bases, recorded the third out via a strikeout.
The Hornets’ final threat came in the top of the ninth as Dykes led off with a double down the left-field line and took third on a pinch-hit sacrifice bunt by former Wheeler High School standout Kevin Anderson before back-to-back ground balls stranded him, ending the game.
Tabor (50-11) only managed to do slightly better with the bat as Kevin Seeger led off the bottom of the second with a double and scored on a one-out RBI groundout.
It was all the damage the Bluejays could do against Southern Poly starter Zach Smith (7-4), who took the loss despite a stellar, complete-game effort on the hill. Smith struck out five batters and scattered five hits.