LEXINGTON, Va. - VMI jumped out to a 10-run lead in the second inning, but had to hang on in the late innings for a 12-8 win over La Salle in non-conference baseball action at Gray-Minor Stadium Thursday.
The Keydets (11-1) batted around in an eight-run first inning and added two more in the second to go up 10-0. The Explorers (1-8) began their rally in the fourth, plating five runs, before cutting the margin to 11-8 in the eighth. Jordan Ballard's second home run of the day in the bottom of the eighth gave VMI a four-run cushion, and Michael Devine recorded the final four outs to put VMI back in the win column.
Freshman Travis Thomas (1-0) picked up his first collegiate victory, working four innings while allowing two runs, one earned, on just three hits. He relieved starter Chris Duty, who worked three scoreless innings before allowing each of the first five batters in the fourth to reach base, then score. La Salle starter Christian Schulz (0-1) took the loss, allowing nine runs, five earned, on five hits and three walks in just over an inning of work.
Ballard led the way offensively, going 2 for 3 with a pair of home runs, including a first inning grand slam. He accounted for five RBIs, while Graham Sullivan's 3 for 5 day included three RBIs. Sam Roberts chimed in his team-best sixth home run of the season, adding two RBIs to his Big South-best total of 25. For the visitors, Brian Meagher slugged a three-run home run, while Brendan Norton and Marc Schoch each drove in a pair.
"I'm glad that we jumped on them early with the eight-spot in the first inning, otherwise we'd have gotten beat," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "I was pretty pleased with the way we started the game. It was a great job by Travis Thomas coming in and throwing up zeroes in the middle innings, and Michael Devine came in after being out for a while and threw well. I can't speak highly enough of Jordan Ballard's day. We sat him Monday to start the game, and he came out and responded. That's what you're supposed to do. We had great at bats up and down our lineup all day long."
Schulz began the game well, striking out Roberts, but failed to retire any of the next six batters. Sullivan put VMI on the board with an RBI single, before a Schulz throwing error on a Jacob Morley sacrifice bunt loaded the bases. Ballard then deposited Schulz's 0-1 pitch beyond the left-field scoreboard, giving VMI its first grand slam since Alex Haitsuka did so against Gardner-Webb last April 10. Ombri Rivers scored three batters later on an Andrew Montague two-bagger, and Roberts followed with his home run to make it 8-0.
A leadoff walk issued to Biagini spelled the end of Schulz's day, while reliever Jerry Dougherty surrendered an RBI double to Sullivan and a run-scoring single to Morley to begin his outing. The right-hander settled in, however, blanking VMI for the next four innings while getting help from his catcher, Schoch, who gunned down four runners on stolen base attempts in the game.
The Explorers rallied in the fourth, batting around and scoring five runs. After a leadoff walk, Duty allowed four consecutive hits, including a two-run double from Schoch and Meagher's three-run home run to center field. That chased the right-hander from the contest, as Thomas came on to retire five of the next six hitters.
The visitors made it a 10-6 contest in the sixth, when Meagher led off by being hit, then scored on a groundout by Brendan Norton. VMI got that run back in the seventh, when Ballard opened the frame with his fifth homer of the year.
La Salle mounted its final charge in the eighth. Meagher again led things off by reaching base, this time on a fielding error, spelling the end of the night for Thomas. Karter Rivera retired the first batter he faced before allowing back-to-back singles, the second of which scored a run. Devine relieved Rivera and allowed a single into center field, but the ball got by Rob Dickinson, allowing another run to score before Devine escaped the jam with a strikeout.
VMI tacked on an insurance run in the bottom of the eighth, as Biagini scored on Sullivan's base knock after hitting a double to extend his hitting streak to 14 games, matching the longest of his career.
The Keydets and Explorers continue their four-game series Friday, with first pitch set for 5 p.m.
Keydet Quick Hits
- Junior Graham Sullivan is hitting .571 with six doubles, seven runs and 10 RBIs in the past five games. He has had hits in 11 of VMI's 12 games this season and leads the team with a .449 batting average, nine doubles and a .481 on-base percentage.
- Senior Jordan Ballard's two home runs Thursday give him 28 in his career, ranking him ninth on the VMI career list.
- During his 14-game hitting streak, extending back to last season, senior Tanner Biagini is hitting .418 with seven doubles and three home runs.
- Freshman Travis Thomas is the eighth different VMI pitcher to earn a win this season.