The Rams improved their season record to 24-12 and 18-4 in the MEC with 5-1 and 10-4 road wins over the West Liberty University Hilltoppers on Saturday afternoon.
In the early game, which kicked off at 1 p.m., the Rams took control early and were able to hold it throughout in what would be the first of two convincing victories on the day.
Junior catcher Eddie Nottingham helped to open the scoring for Shepherd in the top of the first inning with a two-RBI single that brought home sophomore center fielder Brenton Doyle and junior right fielder Nick Atkinson before the Hilltopper’ defense could get out of the opening inning.
Just like that, the Rams took an early 2-0 lead, putting the pressure on the Hilltoppers’ offense to respond.
The West Liberty offense was mostly contained on the day, however, as the first game saw the Hilltoppers able to muster just one run coming in the bottom of the second inning thanks to a solo shot from sophomore first baseman Tyler Ramsey off Rams junior starting pitcher Ryan Potts.
The solo home run by Ramsey was the sole run given up by Potts and the Ram defense, as he secured the win to bring his record to 7-1 for the season.
The Rams added a run to their lead in the top of the third, fifth, and seventh innings to get the final score to 5-1. In both the top of the third and fifth inning, Rams junior left fielder Justin Smith hit two sacrifice flies to bring Doyle home to score on both occasions.
In the top of the seventh inning, it was Atkinson who added a solo home run of his own into right center field to cap off the early game scoring for both teams.
Potts allowed four total hits and the one run in a complete-game effort.
West Liberty senior starting pitcher Justin Retzer took the loss in the early game, putting his current season record at 5-3.
The second game saw an increase in scoring, but ended with the same result, this time a 10-4 win for Shepherd.
The later game was more back and forth in the early stages than the previous game, with both teams putting a run on the board by the end of the second inning.
The Rams again were the ones to open the scoring in the top of the first inning, as Atkinson was able to capitalize on an error by Ramsay after Smith hit a ground ball to first base. With Ramsay’s error, Smith made it to first base in time, while Atkinson came in to score the Rams’ first run of the game, giving Shepherd an early 1-0 lead on the road.
In the bottom of the second inning, West Liberty designated hitter Chad Harper, a sophomore, hit an RBI-double to left center field that brought Ramsey home to tie the game at a 1-1 score, tying the game up for a brief moment.
The Rams did not wait long to respond, however, as in both the top of the third and fourth innings, the Rams added a run to open up a small 3-1 lead. Sophomore catcher Christian Hamel first hit a solo home run to center field in the top of the third inning. Hamel’s homerun was followed by fellow sophomore second baseman Eric Sloper hitting an RBI-single in the top of the fourth inning, which scored senior third basemen Chase Hoffman.
Hilltoppers junior catcher Dalton Davis answered in the bottom of the fourth inning with another solo home run off of Rams senior starting pitcher Logan Manz, who got the late game start for Shepherd.
This brought the Hilltoppers to within one run of the Rams at a 3-2 score.
The Rams extended their lead in the top of the fifth inning thanks to a two-run shot from Doyle that also brought Atkinson home. Doyle’s clutch home run gave the Rams a 5-2 lead heading into the bottom of the fifth inning.
West Liberty refused to quit, however, and cut the score as close as 5-4 in the bottom of the fifth inning thanks two much-needed runs by Ramsay and senior short stop Ethan Estes.
Ramsay had a successful sacrifice fly attempt in the inning, scoring Estes on the play. An RBI-single from senior center fielder Justice Jackson brought home left fielder Cody Eckstein, who reached base a few batters prior. This trimmed the Rams’ lead to 5-4, but that would unfortunately be all the offense West Liberty could manage for the remainder of the game, as the Rams continued to add runs to their lead.
Shepherd added five runs to its 5-4 lead in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a pair of two-RBI hits that were key to the outburst. Hamel was the first Ram to hit a double down the right field line, scoring Atkinson and sophomore short stop Trenton Burgreen, increasing the Rams’ lead to 8-4 at this point.
In the very next at-bat, Smith hit a two-run home run to right field, bringing home Hamel on the play as well to give the Rams a 10-4 lead.
The scoring for both teams ended at 10-4 after the sixth inning. Manz picked up the win with his four and one-thirds innings of action to bring his season record to 2-0.
Hilltoppers junior starting pitcher Parker Dyson fell to 3-3 on the year after taking the loss in the second game of the day. In his five and one-thirds innings of action, Dyson allowed four runs (two earned) on seven hits and struck out five Rams.
The two teams will again meet for another double-header on Sunday afternoon, April 21, again in West Liberty, West Virginia, to finish their four-game series this weekend. The first game will start at 1 p.m. The second game of the day is to start at 3:30 p.m.
Vaughn Brewer is a sports writer for The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org