By Greg Maynard
When a starting pitcher can give his team and coach 11 strikeouts in an outing, he has a solid chance at victory.
Freshman starter Jake Kelly did just that, fanning 11 batters as the Fitchburg State Falcon baseball squad eked out a 5-3 victory against the Mountaineers of Southern Vermont College Wednesday evening in a nonconference tilt at Franklin Pierce University. Fitchburg State improves to 15-9 on the season with the victory.
Along with double-digit strikeouts, Kelly was nearly untouchable in his six innings of work, giving up one earned run and stranding Mountaineer runners on base in every inning except the first.
Despite pitching on short rest, head coach Keith Brouillard was pleased with the performance he got out of his freshman starter. “He established the strike zone and battled for us,” said Brouillard, noting that Kelly had pitched 7 1/3 innings just a week before in a contest against UMass Dartmouth that lasted 14 innings, “I think Jake did a great job.”
The Falcon bats came through when it mattered most. Benefitted by back-to-back doubles from outfielders Pierce Hans and David Mason in the bottom of the eighth frame off of Southern Vermont reliever Chris Henle the Falcons broke a 3-3 tie to go ahead for good. Pitcher Joe St. Hilaire was awarded the win for the Falcons and had two strikeouts, appearing in the eighth and ninth innings to shut the door. Henle was given the loss for the night.
Southern Vermont would get to Kelly in the top of the fifth inning, scoring one run on a Sal Sciara single up the middle to plate catcher Tony Mercury. The Mountaineers again answered in the top of the seventh, scoring two runs on two singles off of Fitchburg State sidearm reliever Tyler Smith, but it wasn’t like the Mountaineers didn’t have their chances off of Kelly.
Kelly continued to get big outs with runners on the base paths. A double by Hernandez to right field seemed to put some life into the bats of the Mountaineers, only to be taken away two strikeouts later by Kelly to end the frame.
A third inning infield single saw Southern Vermont’s Chris Nicastro steal second and third only to watch Kelly strike out both Sciara and Scott with the bats on their shoulders to end the threat. After fanning Rios, Pingatore smacked a double down the right-field line but was halted at second, as Roland Hernandez and Ryan Schuette both went down by way of the Kelly strikeout.
The scoring started in the first inning for the Falcons but did not last long. Leadoff hitter Patrick McMahon reached on an error from Mountaineer third-baseman Richard Rios and later scored on a triple from freshman left-fielder Steven Drury Jr. A groundball out from Hans brought Drury Jr. home to put the Falcons ahead going into the top of the second, 2-0.
Drury Jr.’s seventh triple of the season so far set a new Falcon single season record for most triples, passing Gary Blanchette’s six three-baggers back in 1986. “He’s a tough out, every time he gets up we know he’s going to hit the ball hard” said Brouillard of Drury Jr., “He’s a silent leader on this team, he leads by example.”
Mountaineer starter Chris Bradt settled in after the rocky first, aided by two inning ending double plays, one in the second frame that saw Fitchburg State catcher Sam Brown thrown out at second by Southern Vermont left-fielder Quinten Scott after a fly-out by McMahon and a 6-4-3 turn up the middle that negated another Drury Jr. hit in the third inning.
McMahon would again provide the spark for the Falcons in the seventh, singling to left-field to plate third baseman Derrick Frazier to tie the game at 3-3. The speedy Drury Jr. came all the way from first after a leadoff walk to score on the double to left-field from cleanup hitter Hans, to put the Falcons ahead for good. Mason’s RBI double to bring in Hans added needed insurance.
The Falcons will host conference rival Mass. Maritime at Riccards Field for a home doubleheader on Saturday starting at 12:30 p.m.