On Saturday afternoon, Feb. 3, the Shepherd Rams baseball team (3-0) dropped both games of a double-header in Pembroke, North Carolina, against the 21st-ranked UNC Pembroke Braves (3-0). In first game of the day, the Rams fell by a 14-3 score. Game two was mostly the same except for an impressive increase in offensive production for the Rams, as they lost by a 16-6 score.
As was the case in Friday afternoon’s loss to the Braves, the Rams could not quiet the Braves’ bats once again on Saturday afternoon. In game one, Shepherd junior starting pitcher Justin Smith had a hard time settling in for the Rams early on.
Smith walked Braves junior left fielder Luke Jackson with the bases loaded in the bottom of the second inning, which brought home redshirt sophomore Ethab Baucom for the game’s first run, giving the Braves an early 1-0 lead.
This would be the first of five runs allowed by the Rams in what would be a difficult inning to forget.
Later in the inning, a fielding error by Shepherd gave enough time for Pembroke’s redshirt freshman designated hitter Connor Grainger to come in to score to give the Braves a 2-0 lead.
Redshirt junior right fielder Kevon Perkins capped off what was a frustrating inning for Smith and the Rams by blasting a single to left center that allowed two more Braves’ runners to score, stretching the lead to 5-0 just like that.
Smith, who took the loss, lasted just four innings against the Braves, surrendering eight runs (seven earned) on six hits. It appeared that Smith had a great deal of trouble with his command, as he walked six Braves’ batters in just four innings.
However, it would be safe to say that the Rams’ struggles were not just Smith’s fault. As a team, the Rams committed five errors, an unhealthy recipe for success against any team, particularly a highly-ranked squad such as the Braves.
Offensively, the Rams’ only real highlight came off of the bat of sophomore shortstop Eric Sloper, who launched a two-run homerun in the top of the fifth inning that also brought home sophomore second baseman Trenton Burgreen.
Sloper’s homerun cut the Brave’s lead to an 8-3 score, but this would be the biggest blow that the Rams would be able to muster offensively against the Braves and the stellar pitching of their junior starter Jordan Toney, who was credited with the win.
Toney lasted five innings against the Rams, allowing three runs on four hits. The Rams’ batters clearly got frustrated by Toney at times while he was on the mound, as he struck out five Rams in the game before exiting.
Redshirt sophomore second baseman Seth Hartings excited his home crowd and put the game completely out of reach for the Rams with his grand slam homerun in the bottom of the sixth inning that expanded the Braves’ lead to 10 at a 13-3 score.
Shepherd would go on to lose the game by a 14-3 score.
Nothing for Shepherd seemed to work in game one, so the Rams were hoping for a different story in game two.
However, game two turned out to be even worse for the Rams unfortunately. The Rams fell by a 16-6 score in game two, but the score may not seem as close as suggested.
The Braves scored the first 12 runs of the game over the course of the first seven innings, attacking the Rams in waves of offensive outbursts.
A five-run first inning was capped off by an RBI single to left field by redshirt junior left fielder Elijah Helton, who was able to arrive at second base on the play in light of a fielding error by Smith. Hartings came in to score the fifth and final run of the inning for the Braves on the play.
Earlier in the inning, a fielding error by Shepherd and a wild pitch by freshman pitcher Adam Miller provided the Braves with two more additional runs.
Miller fought hard, but lasted just four and a third innings, allowing eight runs (seven earned) on six hits. Just as Smith did in game one, Miller struggled to keep his pitches in the strike zone, walking seven Braves’ batters while he was in the game.
In the second game of the day, the Rams would go on to commit seven errors against the Braves, hurting the Rams countless times.
Despite having an early lead, the Braves continued to play with a great urge and drive that helped provide fuel to their offense to help to increase their lead.
The Braves would go on to score five more runs over the course of the fifth and sixth innings, continually pounding Shepherd’s pitching and taking advantage of Shepherd’s fielding mistakes.
Shepherd was not able to get on to the scoreboard until the top of the eighth inning, when Smith hit a three-run homerun to cut the deficit to nine with a 12-3 score.
Senior designated hitter Daniel Heleine countered Smith’s homerun with a two-run shot of his own that also brought home senior first baseman Dalton Haymaker, reducing the Braves’ lead to seven with a 12-5 score.
Even though the Rams would go on to lose the game by a 16-6 score, these two homeruns by Smith and Heleine have to give the Rams some much needed confidence going forward offensively.
As a team, the Braves had 15 hits compared to 11 for the Rams, but where the Rams really got outplayed was in committing errors. The Braves had no errors on the day compared to seven for the Rams.
Against a highly-touted team like the Braves, committing that high number of errors is simply too much to overcome, as the Rams learned first hand.
Redshirt junior starting pitcher Gunenr Deal got the win in game two for the Braves. Deal worked just two innings for the Braves, but did managed to strike out five Rams in the process. With a big lead, the Braves saw no point in keeping Deal in longer, so they decided to take him out and let him rest for a more competitive game in the future.
This trip to Pembroke, North Carolina, did not go ideally for the Rams, but there is still plenty of time for the Rams to turn things around.
The Rams will have time to improve from this weekend’s performance against the Braves, as their next game is not until next Friday, Feb. 9, at USC Aiken. Friday afternoon’s gametime is slated for 4 p.m.
Anthony Bracken is the sports editor of The Picket. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org