What was a quiet game early turned into an absolute nail-bitter as the ORU baseball team found a way to win its second comeback in as many days, in a 4-3 win over Little Rock.
The Golden Eagles, who’ve had a thrill for the dramatic in the first two games of the season, needed a big swing from someone to win the game after squandering several opportunities in the first 12 innings. Michael Hungate was the guy, to not only to tie the game in the ninth inning, but win it in the 13th inning.
Hungate was just 1 for 5 on the day with three strikeouts coming into his at-bat in the 13th inning. He got behind in the count, but was able to turn on an 0-1 fastball and ride it out of the ballpark for the walk-off winner.
“I was just trying to keep it as simple as possible and get some runners on the bases to see if that would help,” said Hungate of his thought process before his walk-off homer. “The whole game, all we heard was Cal [Hernandez] saying, ‘We’re gonna win this. We’re going to win this,’ and we we’re just trying to keep that throughout the whole dugout.”
The Golden Eagles were on the ropes late as closer Brady Womacks came into the game in the eighth inning looking for the five-out save. Little Rock didn’t shy away from the deficit getting good swings off of Womacks, but Little Rock right fielder Dalton Thomas got the best swing off sending a first-pitch fastball over the left field wall to give the Trojans a 3-1 lead.
ORU picked up its closer in the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by two runs. Nick Roark and Matt Whatley led the inning off with back-to-back walks and following a Noah Cummings bunt, Brent Williams sacrifice fly cut the lead to one. Hungate would come through in the clutch with a two-out, RBI single up the middle to tie the game at 3.
“I thought we got good work out of our bullpen again today. Brady makes a mistake to a really, really good hitter and the guy makes him pay. Outside of that, I thought the pitching was good. Josh [McMinn] was good,” said ORU Head Baseball Coach Ryan Folmar. “[Ryan] McCullough was good in his first appearance and it was great to see Kyler [Stout] throw the way he did. It’s been a long time since he’s had that kind of confidence out there on the mound.”
While it could easily go unnoticed with all the twists and turns of the game, ORU starting pitcher Josh McMinn and Little Rock starter Cory Malcolm both pitched well enough to win in their first starts of 2017.
Despite not having his best stuff, McMinn was able to frustrate Little Rock hitters and got out trouble including a runners at the corners, no-outs jam in the sixth inning. McMinn finished going 6 1/3 shutout innings giving up just four hits and striking out six Trojans while not walking a batter. Malcom struck out a career-high 11 hitters.
“I struggled with the slider and the cutter most of the game. I might have thrown one changeup that was ok. It was really just locating the fastball that worked,” said McMinn. “We used the fastball instead of the cutter which they were getting the barrel on it.”
The offense for the Golden Eagles was slow for the second consecutive day and unlike their win Friday, they missed big opportunities to break the game open early and win the game late leaving 11 runners on base. The team loaded the bases with nobody out in the 10th inning and again in the 12th, but couldn’t push a run across. The team was also visibly frustrated with the wide strike zone of home plate umpire Mike Grace.
“As well as we executed yesterday, that’s about as bad as we executed today. We had opportunities, especially late in the game, and we didn’t get it done,” said Folmar. “[The strike zone] frustrated me, so I know it frustrated the hitters. I think both sides were affected by it.”
Hungate also felt the size of the strike zone affected the hitters late.
“Each umpire is different. We gotta know that tomorrow’s ump is going to be completely different from this one,” said Hungate. “I know it’s hard when an umpire gives you a foot of the plate, but we got to be aggressive on two strikes sometimes.”
Stout back in the win column
Senior pitcher Kyler Stout earned the win Saturday marking his first win since 2015 before missing the rest of the season with a torn labrum.
Something about Little Rock
ORU closer Brady Womacks has blown just save opportunities in his career after Saturday, but both blown saves have come against Little Rock. The first instance came against the Trojans on March 6 last season.
The Golden Eagles will look to sweep the series Sunday in the third game of the set. Junior Miguel Ausua will make his ORU debut after transferring from Panola Junior College. He’ll take on freshman Chandler Fidel for the Trojans. First pitch is scheduled for 1 P.M.