The University of West Florida turned back rallies by the Lee Flames in the sixth and eighth innings and walked away with a 2-1 victory on Sunday afternoon at Olympic Field, to complete the three-game sweep of the Flames.
The Argonauts, ranked No. 3 in NCAA Division II play, improved to 25-5 overall and 17-3 against Gulf South Conference opponents. The Flames dropped to 21-13 and 9-9.
"We played much better today than we did (Saturday)," said coach Mark Brew after his Flames suffered their fourth straight defeat. "Our intensity and level of competitiveness was much higher today. (Derrick) Pitts and (Grayson) Bailey pitched extremely well and we actually swung the bats better than our output would show. Give West Florida credit, they made some big pitches and big plays when they were needed."
West Florida struck first in the fourth inning when Cliff Covington lifted a wind-blown drive down the right-field line that bounced off the foul pole for a home run. Lee tied the well-played contest at 1-1 in the bottom of the same inning when Zac Hawkins drilled a shot over the right-field wall.
The Argos went on top to stay in the sixth. Aaron Haag singled and moved to second on a walk to Kaleb Barlow. Austin Southall's ground ball was fielded by Andres Nelo who flipped to second for a force on Barlow. Shortstop Josh Silver realized he could not turn the double play with a throw to first, so instead tried to nail Haag at third. However, the throw to Cameron Scott was low and rolled far enough down the third base line to allow Haag to score what turned out to be the winning run.
The Flames threatened to tie or take the lead in the bottom of the sixth. Siosi Poti singled and reached second on an error by the Argo centerfielder. Pitts lined-out hard to center and Hawkins singled to put runners on first and third. Nelo laced a line drive up the middle that was snared by shortstop Jeremy Bajdaun. He quickly flipped the ball to second-baseman Chase Kiefer to turn the double play and end the Lee scoring threat.
The Flames threatened again in the eighth when Jordan Stewart reached on an error and Silver followed with a single. Poti put down a perfect sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third with only one out. However, the West Florida pitching took over again. Pitts went down on strikes and Hawkins drilled a solid liner to center that was pulled down by the perfectly positioned Sean Plunkett.
"This weekend, it was good to see the level that we will need to play at to be considered one of the top programs in NCAA Division II," noted Brew. "We have a midweek game against Tennessee Temple on Tuesday, but then we will see another elite NCAA Division II program when we travel to Delta State next weekend. It's another good measuring stick of where we currently are and where we need to go."
Pitts (2-1) started and worked 5 2/3 innings for the Flames. The lefty allowed five hits, one earned run, walked four and struck out four. Bailey entered the contest in the sixth and gave the Flames a chance to win by hurling 3 1/3 innings and giving up just one hit. The lefty struck out five and did not walk a batter.
West Florida got another good effort out of starter Dayan Rodriguez (4-0). In seven innings, he allowed six hits, one earned run, had two strikeouts and did not give up a walk. Matt Vollweider pitched one inning and worked himself out of a jam. Alex Stevens got his eighth save when he pitched the final inning.
Hawkins swung the bat well the entire series and finished with a home run and a single. Silver, Poti, Pitts, Nelo and Nathan Wierzgac also contributed to the Flames’ seven-hit attack. Garrett Flynn was the only Argo with two hits.
"I'm proud of the way our guys competed today," pointed out Brew. "We had our chances to win, but West Florida simply made the pitches and also executed just a little better than we did. "
Aided by 20 free passes (walks and hit batsmen) West Florida was made even better on a cold and rainy Saturday at Olympic Field. The end result was a doubleheader sweep by the Argonauts over Lee.
With the help of Flames pitching, the Argos blew the first contest wide open with six runs in the third inning on only two hits. Eleven batters went to the plate and Lee hurlers walked four West Florida hitters and hit two others with pitches.
The problems continued in the fourth inning when two more Argos were hit by pitches and two walks pushed another run across the plate. A sacrifice fly increased the lead to 8-0 and still the Florida club had only registered two hits over the two frames.
Three more scores in the eighth inning were all West Florida would need to “run-rule” the Flames. To add insult to injury, three more free passes added to the damage.
Barlow had two hits and scored two runs for the winners, who finished the opener with a total of six hits. In fact, Flynn had three RBIs without getting a single hit and Tyler Halstead had two RBIs without a base knock.
The Flames managed just three hits off winning pitcher Dawson Brown who worked 6 1/3 innings. He allowed three hits, struck out eight and walked five. Josh McLaney was called on to pitch the final 1 2/3 innings.
Jeremy Stawychny started and suffered his fourth loss of the year. In 2 1/3 innings, he allowed two hits, three earned runs and walked four batters. Carlos Ditren came on for 2/3 of an inning and also struggled, while freshman Rob Gustitus had some control problems early but then settled and gave Lee three good innings. Lucas Barnett worked in the eighth.
The Flames threatened to score in the first and second innings thanks to a double by Siosi Poti, but Brown worked his way out of the jam. Andres Nelo and David Logan had the only other hits for Lee.
In the second game of the three-game series, Jordan Delorenzo (8-0) baffled the Flames, pitching the complete seven-innings game. The lefty surrendered five hits, struck out nine and walked one.
Again, it was walks that proved costly. Dustin Lawson (4-2) started out strong but got into trouble in the third inning when he walked three batters and then gave up a two-RBI single to Austin Southall.
Lawson allowed another run in the fourth inning when he walked Jeremy Bajdaun and Chase Kiefer put down a sacrifice bunt. Back-to-back wild pitches allowed Bajdaun to score and gave Delorenzo all the run support he needed.
Jeremy Bales and Grayson Bailey came on to pitch and hold the Argo bats in check the remainder of the contest, but the Flames could never get their bats going.
Silver, Hawkins, Blake Ray, Nelo and Wierzgac collected Lee's five hits. Barlow and Covington doubled for West Florida and Southall finished with two hits.
"We had some chances in the second game to score but could never get the key hit," pointed out Brew. "Bales and Bailey pitched well for us to give us a positive to draw from. I can't ever remember having one of my teams shut out in two straight games."