Hatters Walk-Off With Series Finale Over JU

Freshman Matt Morales scored the tying and winning runs for Stetson on Sunday. By: Jim Hogue Photos
Freshman Matt Morales scored the tying and winning runs for Stetson on Sunday. By: Jim Hogue Photos

For the better part of two days freshman Matt Morales looked on from the dugout as his Stetson teammates struggled to generate any offense against Jacksonville.

When he got his chance to do something about it, he took advantage. Morales scored the tying run in the seventh inning and the winning run in the bottom of the ninth as the Hatters walked-off with a 4-3 victory over the Dolphins in the final game of the series.

The Hatters improved to 21-23 overall with the win, 5-7 in Atlantic Sun Conference play. Jacksonville, which had a chance to move into a first place tie with idle Kennesaw State in league play, falls to 27-15 overall, 9-3 in the league.

“Our guys did a great job today and hung in there,” Hatters coach Pete Dunn said. “Morales did a great job of getting on base for us late in the game. He had the pinch hit in the seventh and came in to tie the game. You preach that there is no such thing as a routine play because you always have to put some pressure on.”

Morales was able to give the Hatters the win in the ninth inning by drawing a one-out walk from Jacksonville reliever Kyle Arjona (2-2). With Vance Vizcaino, who homered earlier in the game, at the plate, Morales was able to steal second to get into scoring position.

Vizcaino then hit a ground ball to JU shortstop J.J. Gould and, when Gould’s throw to first was wide of the bag, first baseman Angel Camacho was unable to come up with the ball cleanly. The bobble at first was all the incentive Morales, and third base coach Mark Leavitt, needed to try for the winning run.

Morales’ slide at the plate around Dolphins catcher Mike Cassala sent the Hatters pouring out of the first base dugout.

“Mark did a great job and kept him going,” Dunn said. “Mark came down the line and Matt did a great job of staying aggressive so that we could take advantage of their bobble. Some runners will stop and look, but if he had hesitated for even a split second it wouldn’t have happened. He put the pressure on them to get rid of the ball quickly.”

The mad dash from second base made a winner of Stetson senior Kevin Fagan (1-0) who appeared on the mound for the Hatters for just the fifth time this year. He blanked JU over the last 1.2 innings to earn his first win since last May 10 at Lipscomb.

Stetson starter Mitchell Jordan went four strong innings for the Hatters but, just back from being sick and on a hot day, the four innings was all he had. He allowed one run, a solo homer by league leader Austin Hays leading off the fourth, and just three hits.

“I was really proud of Mitchell because it was tough out there in that heat with him coming off being sick,” Dunn said. “He gave us four quality innings. I thought our pitchers did a good job overall today. The last two games we gave up a total of five runs.”

It was the Hatters who got on the board first in the game. With two out in the first, Cory Reid and John Fussell had back-to-back singles to put runners at first and third. Fussell broke for second on a steal attempt, but slammed on the brakes after JU threw through, allowing Reid to break for home, where he slid in ahead of the throw back to the plate.

Vizcaino’s homer to open the third inning gave the Hatters a 2-0 lead, but JU starter Sterling Stockton responded by retiring the next 11 Stetson hitters, giving his teammates a chance to rally. Hays’ homer, his 14th, got the Dolphins on the board and then, in the sixth against Stetson senior Josh Thorne, Sam Armstrong delivered a one-out double and then scored on a single up the middle by Camacho to tie the game.

JU took the lead in the seventh when Nathan Koslowski led off with a line drive over the wall in right. It was his first home run of the year.

Stetson tied the game in the seventh when Morales delivered a two-out pinch-hit single, moved up on a wild pitch and, after Vizcaino walked, scored on a single by Austin Hale.

“It was just a good ball game,” Dunn said. “It was one of those games where, if I wasn’t in the dugout I would have liked to have been up in the stands watching it. It was an exciting game. All the pitchers, for both teams threw well.”

Hale, Fussell and Kirk Sidwell led the Hatters’ 10-hit attack with two each. Hays, Armstrong and Camacho had two hits each for JU.

The win improved the Hatters’ chances for earning a spot in the A-Sun Championship at the end of the month but, with three league series still to play, every game is important.

“I told the team on Saturday that they needed to do everything they could today to get the final game of this series, just like we did down at FGCU,” Dunn said. “Every game for us is so important in the league. We are not at the top, but we have to try to build some momentum going into the tournament because we know that our pitching if going to stack up against anyone in the league.

“We just have to get some guys hot down the stretch. V had a good weekend for us and Hale is doing a nice job, but we have to get Jack Machonis, Will Mackenzie and Cory Reid going. We know we are not the kind of team that will put a lot of runs up, but if we can get everyone contributing, with our pitching, we can win a tournament.”

The Hatters will wrap-up their home stand on Wednesday night when they host nationally-ranked Florida State at 6:30 p.m. Reserve seats for that game are sold out, but there are a limited number of general admission tickets that remain available.

Following the FSU game, the Hatters will travel to New Jersey for the first time for three games against new A-Sun member NJIT and a single, non-conference, game at Monmouth next weekend.