LEXINGTON, Va. - A two-out, two-run sixth inning triple by Jacob Morley turned the game around, and the VMI Keydets went on to pull out a back-and-forth, 9-7, victory over the UNC Asheville Bulldogs in Big South baseball action Friday night at Gray-Minor Stadium in Lexington, Va.
The first two batters were retired in the sixth, with the Bulldogs leading 7-6, but Graham Sullivan drew a walk on a 3-2 pitch. George Piccirilli then hit a ground ball to Asheville (15-31, 7-15 Big South) shortstop Catlin Carter, but the ball appeared to graze off the tip of Carter's glove for an error. Alex Haitsuka then tied the game with an RBI single, scoring Sullivan, and Morley followed with a drive off the wall in right for his second triple of the year. That gave VMI (23-22-1, 10-12 Big South) a 9-7 lead, and Alan Watts (3-0) and Travis Thomas shut out the visitors over the final three innings to secure the win.
Watts picked up the victory with two innings of relief, allowing one run on three hits, while Thomas worked two scoreless innings for his third save. Grier Harrington (3-9), pressed into service when Bulldog starter Ryan Dull was hit by a line drive in the fourth inning, took the loss with his four innings of work, allowing seven runs, only four of which were earned.
Offensively, Sullivan's hitting streak ended at 12 games, but Rob Dickinson and Haitsuka helped pick up the slack, as they posted three hits apiece. Dickinson had two doubles and four RBI, the latter of which was a career high.
"I'm happy with the way we kept battling back," said VMI head coach Marlin Ikenberry. "Our offense never gave up, led by Rob Dickinson and Alex Haitsuka, and we got a good conference win."
With the threat of rain looming, the game started 15 minutes early on the warm, humid night. Asheville got on the board first against Coby Cowgill, as Patrick Koontz and Mike Vaughn had back to back singles. After a sacrifice bunt, Ian Graham grounded to first, scoring Koontz and staking UNCA's Dull to a 1-0 lead.
Dull responded by striking out two of the three hitters in the second inning, and neither squad could score in the third. Asheville brought home three runs in the fourth, as the first four hitters reached against Cowgill. Vaughn had the first run-scoring blow, a looping double down the left-field line, before a run scored on a wild pitch to make it 3-0, Bulldogs. Graham capped the inning with a sacrifice fly, pushing the visitors' lead to 4-0.
The fourth inning saw a reversal of the Keydet fortunes, as Haitsuka had a one-out single. Morley then hit a line drive back to Dull, which appeared to bounce off the pitcher's shoulder and carom away. The hurler was able to retrieve it and force Haitsuka at second, but had to leave the game due to an apparent injury. Reliever Matthew Pate was greeted with back to back hits by Justin Topping and Dickinson, the second of which was an RBI double, putting VMI on the board at 4-1.
Justin Hess started the next inning by getting hit by a pitch, prompting Asheville to call Harrington out of the bullpen. Hess promptly stole second, Sam Roberts singled and Sullivan walked to load the bases. Piccirilli then drove in a run with a fielder's choice, and Haitsuka had an RBI single to make it 4-3. One out later, Topping walked on a 3-2 pitch, and Dickinson cleared the bases with a shot down the right-field line for his second double of the game, giving VMI its first lead of the night at 6-4.
That edge was short lived, as Cody Buch had an RBI single to cut the Keydet lead to one in the sixth. That ended Cowgill's night and brought on Watts, who issued a walk and a wild pitch to put runners at second and third with no outs. Carter followed with an RBI single, tying the game at 6, and one out later, Jordan Lurie had a sacrifice fly to give the visitors the lead once again, 7-6. That would set the stage for the sixth inning, and Morley's decisive blow.
With VMI leading 9-7 entering the seventh, Asheville would not go quietly. Grant Gajdosz singled to lead off the inning, and Koontz followed with a ground ball to second base. Hess charged the ball, and Gajdosz and the VMI second baseman had a hard collision. Hess held on to the ball, and Koontz was declared out on the interference call, resulting in a double play.
Watts completed the seventh without further issues, and Thomas worked a 1-2-3 eighth. The Bulldogs rallied in the ninth, but with two on, Thomas induced Koontz to fly to center and got Vaughn to ground to short, giving him the save and VMI the victory.
The Keydets will return to action Saturday, playing host to UNC Asheville in the middle game of this three-game Big South series. Game time is set for 6 p.m.
UNC Asheville at VMI (May 13, 2011 at Lexington, Va.)
Asheville 010 303 000 - 7 13 2 (15-31, 7-15 Big South)
VMI 000 153 00X - 9 10 1 (23-22-1, 10-12 Big South)
UNCA - Dull; Pate (4); Harrington (5) and Graham.
VMI - Cowgill; Watts (6); Thomas (8) and Haitsuka
W - Watts (3-0) S - Thomas (3) L - Harrington (3-9) T- 2:40 A - 221