This past weekend, the Samford baseball team opened up its season on the road at the UCF Tournament held in Orlando, Florida, at John Euliano Park. The Bulldogs played three exciting contests over the three day span, posting a record of 1-2 in the tournament.
On Friday, the Bulldogs opened up their season against Rice, dropping the game by a final score of 8-7 after the Owls scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth inning by way of a walk-off home run. Senior pitcher Wyatt Burns was issued the loss for the Bulldogs, while Rice’s junior pitcher Kendal Jefferies received credit for the win. At the plate, the Bulldogs saw strong performances from sophomore catcher Anthony Mulrine, who went three for three on the day, including two home runs and four RBIs. Sophomore designated-hitter Ayrton Schafer added two RBIs for the Bulldog’s offense. As a team, Samford totaled seven hits in the game.
On the mound for the Bulldogs, junior pitcher Cody Shelton pitched 4 ⅓ innings, giving up only three runs on four hits, while striking out four batters. In relief for the Bulldogs, senior Josh Rick pitched two innings, giving up three runs on three hits while adding four strikeouts. Freshman Billy Creger and senior Erin Baldwin were also brought on in relief for the Bulldogs, leading the way for Burns in the ninth. The Samford pitching staff struck out 11 Owls batters on the day and gave up nine hits. For Rice, senior first baseman Chace Sarchet went one for four at the plate, with that hit coming as the walk-off homer that would give the Owls the victory. On the mound, redshirt junior pitcher Ricardo Salinas started and pitched three innings, allowing only one hit and one run while striking out four Bulldog batters.
On Saturday, the Bulldogs squared off against No. 15 Virginia in the second game of the tournament. Despite a strong offensive showing that included 10 hits, Samford fell short 10-4 to the Cavaliers. Junior pitcher Stephen Jones was handed the loss, while senior pitcher Derek Casey was credited in the win for Virginia. For Samford, sophomore shortstop Branden Fryman went three for five at the plate on the day, while sophomore catcher continued his great tournament, going two for three at the plate with a run scored. The Bulldogs saw two hits leave the park, as senior first baseman Austin Edens and sophomore third baseman Taylor Garris both connected on their first home runs of the season. Garris finished the day going two for four at the plate, while Edens’ home run was the 45th of his career, adding on to what is already his record for most home runs hit by any active SoCon player.
On the mound, Jones pitched four innings for the Bulldogs, giving up four runs on nine hits, while striking out two Virginia batters. Senior Tristan Widra and sophomore Hamp Skinner each came in and pitched two innings in relief for the Bulldogs. Sophomores Carson Cupo and Luke Corbin also made appearances out of the bullpen for Samford. For Virginia, three different batters had three-hit performances, as junior centerfielder Jake McCarthy, junior second baseman Andy Weber and senior third baseman Justin Novak all had great days at the plate. Senior designated-hitter Caleb Knight added the Cavaliers’ only home run of the day. On the mound, Casey pitched 5 ⅔ innings, giving up one run on six hits and adding seven strikeouts.
In the final game of the three game tournament, Samford took on the host team, No. 22 UCF in what would turn out to be a thrilling finish, as the Bulldogs were able to put together three runs in the top of the ninth inning to hold on to defeat the Knights 8-7. The win would prove to be Samford’s first win over a nationally ranked opponent since June 6, 2012, when they beat Mississippi State in the Florida State Regional in the NCAA Tournament. Wyatt Burns was given the win for the Bulldogs, while junior pitcher Bryce Tucker was handed the loss. Austin Edens had a great day at the plate, going three for four with one RBI, including three straight singles. Junior centerfielder Troy Dixon went two for five at the plate, including a triple and an RBI. Samford totaled nine hits for the day, and added two stolen bases. Sophomore Ryan Crockett came in as a pinch hitter in the top of the ninth inning and delivered a key hit that would score two Samford baserunners, setting the score at 5-4 in favor of the Bulldogs. On the mound, Samford used seven different pitchers, striking out eleven Knights’ batters as a staff. Freshman pitcher Sam Strickland made his first collegiate start, pitching 3 ⅔ innings, allowing two runs on three hits and adding five strikeouts. For UCF, redshirt sophomore center fielder Ray Alejo and junior second baseman Matthew Mika added two hit games. Junior pitcher Jordan Spicer got the start for the Knights and threw five innings, allowing two runs on four hits while adding seven strikeouts.
The Bulldogs upcoming home games are against Harvard and Alabama. Samford will play Harvard in a four game series (Feb. 23-25), with a double-header on Saturday. The Bulldogs will then take on the in-state rival Crimson Tide on Tuesday, Feb 27, at 6 p.m. (CST).
Collin Reese, Staff Writer
[photo courtesy of Samford Athletics]