Baseball endures ups and downs in 1-2 weekend

By GREGORY MELICK | March 8, 2018

HOPKINSSPORTS.COM Junior Preston Betz through 7.1 lights out innings against Messiah.

This past weekend, Hopkins baseball hosted the Baltimore Invitational, with some of the top teams from throughout the East Coast coming to Babb Field to go up against one another. 

After having their Friday game postponed due to inclement weather, the Blue Jays played the Rutgers University-Camden Scarlet Raptors on Saturday and the preseason No. 1 team in the country, the SUNY Cortland Red Dragons, on Sunday.

After the Baltimore Invitational games, Hopkins played another game on Monday at home against the Messiah College Falcons. All in all, this long weekend of competition turned out to be a mixed bag of results for the Blue Jays.

The first game of the weekend did not start out as planned, as two hits and an error put the Scarlet Raptors up by one run, with runners on second and third with only one out. Thankfully, starting junior pitcher Sean McCracken was able to get himself out of the tough situation, with back-to-back strikeouts to limit the damage to only one run. 

After a swift bottom of the first, Rutgers-Camden was back to work in the second, again getting runners on second and third with only one out. McCracken would get the next two batters out but conceded a run on a ground ball out to shortstop. 

The Hopkins offense continued to sputter, as they were retired after just three batters in four out of the five first innings, and they only had two hits through the first six. Meanwhile, the Scarlet Raptors were able to scratch one run across in the fifth before taking advantage of four walks between McCracken and senior pitcher Nick Bodner to score three runs and break open the game.

From that point, the Jays could not overcome the 6-0 deficit and eventually lost 11-2 for a disappointing opening to the Baltimore Invitational. Still, there were some offensive bright spots from the Blue Jays outfield that they could look to for motivation, as senior outfielders Zach Jaffe and Chris DeGiacomo and sophomore outfielder Chris Festa all reached base twice. Next up was a huge game against Cortland State the following day. 

To start off their game against the Red Dragons, Second-Team All-Region senior pitcher Alex Ross took the mound. The game was a pitching duel for the first three innings, as neither team could even register a hit.

The game continued to be a pitcher’s duel throughout, with neither team ever going up by more than two runs. Junior pitcher Josh Hejka came in to relieve Ross in the sixth and pitched four scoreless innings of his own.

This is the third time Hejka has pitched against the Red Dragons in his career. 

“I pitched against Cortland my freshman and sophomore year as well, and especially my first time facing them, I was a bit intimidated based on how good I had heard they were,” Hejka said. 

This time Hejka was not intimidated and took the fight straight to the Red Dragons.

In the 10th inning, sophomore shortstop Dillon Bowman had his first home run of the season, finishing the game for the Jays with a walk-off homer to beat the Red Dragons for the second straight year.

The win was a big lift for the Jays, but they still had to come back Monday and play for their third game, this time against Messiah. The Blue Jays scored the first three runs of the day in the first three innings. 

Meanwhile, on the mound, junior pitcher Preston Betz did not allow more than one hit in any of his 7.1 innings. The Falcons’ only run came on a home run in the fifth inning, and Hopkins had a seemingly comfortable 3-1 lead entering the ninth.

However, the Blue Jays bullpen suffered in the final inning of the game and could not hold their lead. They surrendered five straight singles to put the Falcons up 4-3. In the bottom of the ninth, the Jays got a lead-off single that was extended to a double when the left fielder bobbled the ball. The Blue Jays could not capitalize on the opportunity as three straight strikeouts ended the game.

The pitching was very inconsistent for the Jays. Ross, Hejka, Betz and junior Jack Bunting combined only surrendered three earned runs and racked up 26 strikeouts in only 19.1 innings. The rest of the staff gave up 11 earned runs in 8.2 innings with seven strikeouts and six walks.

“Last year, the main strength of our pitching staff was how we made other teams earn their baserunners. We had the second or third highest strikeout to walk ratio in the country, and the fact that our team ERA was also among the best in the country is a testament to that,” Hejka said. “So going forward, I am confident our staff will again be among the best in the country at limiting free bases.”

The Blue Jays will look to bounce back from their rocky start this weekend as they approach another packed week of competition. They will play Manhattanville College Saturday, Stevens Institute of Technology Sunday and Salisbury College Monday, their last three games before heading down to Florida for their annual spring break tournament.

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