Spartans and Terriers Get Great Start In Conference Play
Helloooo Conference play. Both Wofford and USC Upstate had a fairly successful run of non-conference weekend series.
The Terriers, after dropping their opening day game to Southern Illinois, went on to win 14 straight to make for their best start in program history before losing on the road to UGA last Tuesday.
They lost their first series of the season last weekend, getting swept by the Xavier Musketeers, who are actually a pesky good team that has played an extremely tough non-con schedule that consisted of a west coast swing where they played several mainstays in the NCAA tournament – Oregon, UCSB, Cal Poly, as well as one east coast NCAA tournament contender in Louisville.
Wofford broke the 4 game skid on Tuesday night in Atlanta by picking up an 8-6 win over Georgia Tech to set the stage for opening their back to back SoCon Regular Season championship defense this weekend, welcoming the Virginia Military Institute Keydets to Russell C King Field.
The USC Upstate Spartans have had a much more bumpy roller coaster ride through their non-conference slate. They started off 5-0 with their offense and pitching both looking dominant in back to back sweeps of Towson and North Florida. Then went on to drop 2 out of 3 in the OneSpartanburg, Inc Baseball Classic to Michigan State and Toledo.
They got back on track with a win over Northwestern to wrap up the weekend and then went on to upset Clemson at Fluor Field the following Tuesday. The Spartans then went on a 5 game losing skid, getting swept on the road at Troy, dropping a midweeker against Sacred Heart, and getting absolutely dominated by South Carolina.
Upstate once again found the win column against James Madison taking 2 out of 3, setting a record with a 25-10 win over The Citadel in midweek, and then taking 2 of 3 games played in a busy weekend last week featuring Princeton and Cincinnati. The Spartans defeated Cincy in a clean 6-1 win Thursday, lost to Princeton on Saturday 7-4, and then bounced back with another offensive explosion on Sunday, crushing Princeton 22-4. They also went on the road to Charlotte on Tuesday and defeated Queens University 8-6 to pave the way to open Big South Conference play this weekend on the road at High Point.
Every game in Big South play will have high stakes and implications for the Spartans and the other 9 teams in the BSC this season. Only the top 4 teams in the standings will make the conference tournament, so needless to say, Mike McGuire and his squad were looking for the more than ideal outcome in the opener on Friday night.
They got it and then some. High Point is off to a slow start, having dropped 2 out of 3 in their first conference series last weekend to Presbyterian. They are sub .500 on the season, and to their credit, they have played a bit of a tough schedule. Outside of Bryant on opening weekend, Davidson in midweek, Lafayette 2 weekends ago, and the Blue Hose, High Point has struggled their way through UL-Lafayette, who is a perennial regional and super regional host, Alabama, and a midweeker with UNC. In the first 21 games of the season, they have surrendered well over 100 runs – 6 of those games they gave up double figures in. It is clear High Point has issues in the pitching department. That is something that plays well into Upstate’s advantage with as prominent of an offense as they have, especially when they are clicking.
The Spartans scored in all but 4 innings, with a 6 spot in the 4th and 3 in each the 8th and 9th. Upstate amassed 15 hits, over half of which were of the extra base variety. They hit three home runs in the game, one of which was yet another grand slam from Grant Sherrod, who led the way for the Spartans’ bats with a 4-5 effort, with 5 RBI on 2 doubles, a 2 run homer, the “Grant Slam”, and also drew a walk with 3 runs scored. Cole Caruso and Daniel Gernon also had a big fly each in the dominant 15-2 victory over the Panthers. Gernon tallied 4 RBI while Noah Rabon added 2 in a 2-5 night at the dish.
On the mound, Reese Dutton continued his excellent work, earning his 3rd win of the season with a 6 inning outing in which he surrendered just 1 run on 6 hits with a walk and 4 strikeouts. Julian Parson and Caleb Costa shut down the Panthers over the final 3 innings. Costa surrendered a run on 2 hits, but struck out 4 to make for a new career-high for the freshman right hander.
Saturday, the offensive fireworks lessened, but there was still lots of fire cracking off the Spartans’ bats like the 4th of July. Upstate scored just 4 runs in game 2, and all 4 came via the long ball.
In the top of the 1st, Troy Hamilton set the tone with a 2 run blast. Those 2 runs would end up being all USC Upstate would need to take the series, Henry Proger tossed a new career high 7 and a third innings, surrendering just 2 earned runs on 5 hits with 7 strikeouts.
In addition to Hamilton, David Pereira and Grant Sherrod added a solo homer each. Jake Cubbler, who has emerged as a good option to close, or at the very minimum give some innings in long/late relief, pitched the final inning and 2 thirds and shut High Point down, securing his first career save as the Spartans won 4-2.
Sunday’s finale was full of offense on both sides. Chase Matheny got the start for Upstate and got into trouble right away. The Panthers struck first on a pair of solo shots in the bottom of the 1st. The Spartans would not get their offense going until the 3rd inning on an RBI double just inside the bag at 3rd and down the line from Daniel Gernon that plated sophomore Center Fielder Kyle Hennington.
USCU struck again in the top of the 6th with a 4 spot on 3 straight RBI singles from Daniel Gernon, David Pereira, and Troy Hamilton – all with 2 out, to go up 5 to 2.
That lead was short-lived as High Point cut it to a 1 run game on a 2 run homer in the ensuing half inning, and proceeded to tie it in the 8th on their 3rd solo blast of the game.
The game went into extra innings, and with the top of the 10th came the Spartans’ biggest threat since they took the lead. With 1 away, back to back to back singles from David Pereira, Kyle Henington, and Cole Caruso loaded the bags. Daniel Gernon went down singing for the 2nd out, but Troy Hamilton and Grant Sherrod came through and strung together 2 more singles to drive in 3 and give Upstate the lead 8-5.
Jake Cubbler pitched yet again, going both the 9th and 10th innings. He surrendered a run on a pair of singles in the bottom of the 10th, but thanks to the Spartans’ bats, he was able to pick up the win in relief to follow up his first career save as Upstate completed the sweep of High Point to start Big South play 3-0 with an 8-6 win.
Wofford opened their conference slate Friday evening in front of a lively crowd enjoying the sunny and warm, yet breezy weather at “The Railyard.” In years past, especially given how good Wofford is and the expectations set for them after these last 2 seasons, an opponent like VMI would be seen as an easy sweep for the Terriers. However, that is not the case. Sam Roberts, a VMI alum who has been an assistant since 2017 following a brief career in the Athletics’ Minor League system, was named the head coach in August last year. He has brought a dramatic improvement to their offense. They have scored in double figures in 10 of their 23 games and scored over 5 in 7 other games. They are not an easy out anymore, so the Terriers were inevitably going to have at least 1 game where their bats were going to have to win it.
On Friday night, that turned out to be the case. The Keydets drew first blood in the contest, cashing in on a leadoff single. A sac bunt moved him into scoring position setting up a 1 out RBI single. It could have been worse, but a fielder’s choice eliminated the lead runner at 2nd, and a caught stealing at 2nd retired the side.
Wofford answered quickly in the home half of the frame. Jack Renwick singled with 1 away. A sac bunt from Marshall Toole moved Renwick up 90 feet, and Ryan Galanie singled on the infield on a deflected liner off the pitcher that went to 3rd with no chance of forcing Renwick there. Trey Yunger delivered a double to the left field corner, scoring Renwick with ease, however Ryan Galanie tried to score as well and was hosed at the plate 7-6-2 to end the inning, leaving the game tied at 1 heading to the 4th.
The Terriers added on in the 4th after a leadoff single from Dixon Black. Brice Martinez walked to follow, and both runners were moved up to scoring position on a sac bunt from David Wiley. After a call to the bullpen, Cameron Gill greeted the fresh arm by punching a 2 run single up the gut to score Black and Martinez. A grounder and a strikeout thwarted any further scoring by the Terriers, but they carried a 3-1 advantage to the 5th.
The 2 sides exchanged runs in the 5th, and Wofford extended their lead to 3 in the bottom of the 6th via a solo home run from Cameron Gill that was blasted high above the 375’ sign on the fence in left center field.
The game took a turn in the top of the 7th. After Lucas Mahlstedt got a quick strikeout of the leadoff man, the Keydets responded with a single and an RBI double back to back. After yet another K, VMI tied the game at 5 with a 2 run home run out of left, which would be the score heading to the home half.
Wofford failed to answer this blow, going 3 up 3 down in the bottom of the 7th and 8th, which allowed VMI to hang around and take the lead in the top of the 9th. A leadoff base hit, a sac bunt, and a fielder’s choice put the go ahead run on 3rd, and he came in to score on a single up the gut to give the Keydets the 6-5 lead.
The Terriers, needing an answer in the worst way, got a leadoff walk out of DH Gunnar Johnson. Shane Lussier pinch ran for him, and advanced to 2nd on a balk. After a K for out #1, Marshall Toole drew a walk on a full count, setting up a Ryan Galanie RBI single to tie it at 6.
In similar fashion to game 2 of the double header against Xavier last weekend, the Terriers had the winning run a mere 90 feet away after a double steal, and worked the bases loaded via an intention pass issued to Dixon Black with 2 out. But, they could not come through as Brice Martinez grounded back to the mound to send it to extra innings.
The same scenario played out after a 1-2-3 top of the 10th, with Wofford having the winning run on 3rd and the bases loaded with 2 out, but once again, could not get a clutch hit as Ryan Galanie flied out to go to the 11th still knotted at 6.
The game got away from Luke Stephens in the top of the 11th, as he plunked the first 2 hitters of the frame and allowed a run to come home unearned on an errant throw to 1st on a sac bunt. He was taken down for Ryder Moye, who surrendered an RBI single. Moye gave way to Branton Little, who surrendered a third run on a sac fly. All three of those runs were tacked onto Stephens’ line unearned.
Wofford got a man aboard in the bottom of the inning, but he was erased on a game-ending double play.
Wofford was led by Catcher Cameron Gill, who went 2 for 5 with 3 RBIs and a run scored. Ryan Galanie added an RBI on a 3-6 night at the plate with a run scored. Trey Yunger also tallied an RBI, drawing 2 walks to add onto a 1 for 4 game.
The Terriers rebounded in a big way with an offensive explosion in game 2 on Saturday to even the series. On the mound, Wofford went with a bullpen game. Charlie Weber got the “open”/spot start, and logged 2 innings of shutout ball with 4 hits and a K. Mike Eggert came in to relieve and worked another 2 innings and got the win despite 3 earned runs on 4 hits. The runs surrendered by Eggert had little threat or bearing on the game because Wofford’s offense had already blown it wide open.
The Terriers scored 12 runs over the first 3 innings, in part thanks to 4 home runs – 1 by Jack Renwick, another by Ryan Galanie, Gunnar Johnson’s first of the season since coming back from an injury last season, and the other by Marshall Toole.
Wofford just continued to add on, scoring in every inning except the 7th en route to a 20-6 shellacking of VMI.
Once again, the much-improved offense of VMI made for a less than ideal start to the day in the finale on Sunday. The Keydets took an early 3-0 lead over the first inning and a half of play off of Wofford starter Matthew Marchal. The outing was another example of a tough start in a season where Marchal has struggled uncharacteristically. His longest outings of the season have been 5 innings, and he has gone 3 innings or less in 4 of his starts. He has given up 23 runs, 18 of them earned, on 33 hits in 9 starts this season (counting Sunday).
Nonetheless, despite not having his best so far this season, Marchal has still only lost 1 game – the opening day game against Southern Illinois where the Salukis knocked him around in just 1 inning of work. Since then, he has grinded through as a veteran pitcher should do, and he has managed to not only keep the Terriers in games, but also picked up a couple of wins. In the finale, he picked up his 3rd of the season.
Marchal rebounded from the tough start to go 5 innings. He surrendered 2 more runs, making for 5 in total (all earned), with 2 walks, giving way to Zac Cowan, who saved the Terriers from having to use a lot of arms, going the remaining 4 innings with just 1 earned run on 5 hits with 6 strikeouts.
Better than the combined grinding of Marchal and Cowan, was the Wofford offense. Trailing 3-1 after 2 and a half, the T-Dogs’ bats hung a 4 spot to claim the lead for good. Marshall Toole led off with a ground-rule double. With 1 out, back to back 2 baggers from Trey Yunger and Dixon Black plated 2. A wild pitch with 2 out brought home Dixon Black and after an E5 allowed David Wiley to reach, he came home on an RBI single by Gunnar Johnson.
The Terriers added a single run in the 4th and then hung another crooked number with a five spot in the 5th to make for an 11-5 lead.
VMI added a run in the 6th, and Wofford got it back in the 8th on a 2 out Marshall Toole RBI single up the middle to score Jack Renwick, who reached with a double off the fence in left center just before Toole’s AB.
In the end, the Terriers picked up a 12-6 win to take the series and start their quest for a third straight Southern Conference Regular Season Championship 2-1 in conference play.
In the week to come, Wofford will take a break from conference play with 3 straight non-con games. They will travel down to Clinton on Wednesday night at 6:00 and then will follow it up with a 3 game set at home vs Siena College. That series gets underway with a Saturday double header beginning at 2:00 with game 2 to follow at 6. The week will conclude Sunday with the first pitch of the finale set for 1:00.
For USC Upstate, they will take on the Elon Phoenix Tuesday evening on the road at 6:00. They will come home to Harley Park to continue Big South play with a 3 game set against the Winthrop Eagles beginning Friday at 4:00, continuing Saturday at 2, and wrapping up Sunday at 1.