ASHEVILLE, N.C. - No. 29 VMI rallied back from early deficits in both games, sweeping a doubleheader from UNC Asheville, 7-2 and 2-1, in Big South Conference baseball action Saturday afternoon at McCormick Field. VMI's first conference sweep of the season improves the Keydets to 23-5 overall and 7-2 in the Big South, while Asheville falls to 8-17 on the season and 2-7 in league play.
The Keydets fell behind 2-0 in the first inning of game one, then mounted a steady attack en route to the 7-2 win. In game two, Asheville scored its lone run in the first, while Justin Schumer (0-3) shut down the Keydet offense until the ninth, when VMI scored two runs on four hits, all of which came with two strikes.
"I was really pleased with the way we pitched today," said Marlin Ikenberry, as his team scored its first road sweep in Big South play since doing so at High Point on March 21-22, 2008. "To only give up three runs all day is impressive. I was very pleased with the types of hits that we got. We played offense today, which I was really excited about because we haven't played offense the way we're capable of."
The opener cruised along through the early innings, as starting pitchers Sam Roberts (4-1) and Ryan Dull (3-1) locked up in a pitcher's duel. Roberts allowed two runs in the first inning but nothing else, scattering five hits through seven innings. Dull, meanwhile, took the loss, allowing five runs on eight hits in eight-plus innings. Keydet reliever Michael Devine came on to record his fifth save of the season, allowing one base runner in two innings of work for the second straight day.
The top of the VMI order produced in game one, as each of the top four hitters had multiple hits, combining for nine of the team's 11 hits, five runs scored and four RBIs. Sam Roberts was 3 for 5 with an RBI, while Graham Sullivan went 2 for 4 with three RBIs and two runs scored. Cory Spangenberg and Jordan Ballard each had a pair of hits and scored a run in the win.
"I was impressed by the job Sam Roberts did of settling in after the first inning," said Ikenberry. "They got those two runs early, and he really did a nice job of coming back and putting up zeroes. Graham Sullivan came up with the big hit with that two-run home run, then we manufactured a run to take the lead. It was nice to see our offense tack on a few in the ninth. We got a great at bat from Tanner Biagini with his push bunt that scored a run, and we were able to keep the rally going and push across four runs. Then Mike Devine once again came in and slammed the door."
Game two featured another pitcher's duel, with Jason Farley and Schumer matching one another. Farley was chased in the eighth, allowing one run on five hits, while Schumer went the distance, scoring two runs on eight hits. VMI's ninth-inning rally made a winner of John Garrett (2-0), who scored his second win of the weekend by retiring all five of the batters he faced.
Sullivan and Rob Dickinson each had two hits for VMI in the second game, while Spangenberg, Ballard and Biagini each had doubles in their lone knocks. Schumer contributed two of Asheville's five hits and the lone RBI, while Baatz had Ian Graham each had doubles, along with Schumer.
"In game two, you have to tip your cap to Justin Schumer," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "He pitched outstanding, and so did Jason Farley. They scored one in the first, and I didn't think we were going to score off of him. We got a big at bat from Cory Spangenberg, going the other way, then Jordan Ballard moved him over and Graham Sullivan hit a single to score him. Those were two very mature at bats. Tanner Biagini then followed with the big double to put us up one. Jason Farley impresses me every time he goes out on the mound. He keeps us in ballgames, and he can really pitch."
The Bulldogs took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of game one, as Schumer and Graham had consecutive RBI doubles. The Keydets pulled even in the fourth, when Sullivan slugged his seventh home run of the season, a two-run shot to left field.
Asheville threatened in the bottom of the fourth, putting runners at the corners with one out. Roberts, however, got out of the jam by picking off Derrick Hopkins at first base, then getting Mike Vaughn to fly out to left field on the next pitch.
The Keydets stole the go-ahead run in the sixth, after Roberts led off by doubling into left field. Spangenberg followed with a base knock up the middle, putting runners at first and third with no outs. On the second pitch of the ensuing at bat, Spangenberg took off for second base on Dull's first move, getting caught in a rundown that allowed Roberts to race home, putting VMI up 3-2.
Asheville threatened in the eighth, when pinch-hitter Beau Zinman and Catlin Carter each had singles against Keydet reliever Jeremy Brown. Devine entered and retired the first two batters before unleashing a wild pitch, moving each of the runners up 90 feet. The advances made no difference, however, as Devine then ended the threat by striking out cleanup hitter Justin Schumer.
VMI tacked on four insurance runs in the ninth, as Ballard and Sullivan hit back-to-back doubles to chase Dull from the game. The Keydets kept the pressure on against reliever Grier Harrington, scoring three more runs, being aided by a fielding error that led to two unearned scores.
Asheville again took a first-inning lead in game two, when Schumer's one-out single plated Danny Baatz, who reached on a center field-double. Farley then got Zinman to ground into a double play, the first of eight consecutive batters retired by Farley.
Schumer broke that run with his one-out double in the fourth, while Mike Vaughn reached base with a two-out walk later in the inning. Farley escaped the jam when Jacob Morley ran down a Cody Buch fly ball down the right field-line.
The Keydets threatened in the seventh, when Sullivan led off with a single and moved up on a sacrifice bunt by Biagini. Schumer then got Alex Haitsuka to pop up on the infield, before right fielder Jacob Edwards made a diving catch in the gap, taking away extra bases from Rob Dickinson while preserving the one-run lead.
Asheville opened the eighth with a pinch-hit double from Ian Graham before Farley struck out Edwards. Garrett then entered the game, and despite issuing a wild pitch to move Graham to third, retired the next two batters to escape the rally.
VMI rallied in the ninth, mounting its only rally of the day against Schumer. Spangenberg led off with a double to the left field wall, then moved up 90 feet on a deep fly out by Ballard. Sullivan then hit a sharp liner off of the first baseman's glove, allowing Spangenberg to trot home. Biagini delivered a deep shot to center field, falling in for a double that scored Sullivan from first. Rob Dickinson contributed a single two batters later, but Schumer escaped the inning without further damage.
VMI returns to action Tuesday evening, playing host to Longwood at 5 p.m. Fans can listen on the VMI Sports Network at www.vmikeydets.com.
Keydet Quick Hits
- The Keydets have won every weekend series it has played this season.
- VMI is now 12-9 all-time against UNC Asheville, including a 6-6 mark in games played in Asheville.
- The second game of the doubleheader marked the first time this season that VMI won while trailing entering the ninth inning.
- VMI his hit home runs in 23 of its 28 games this season.