ASHLAND, Ohio – On a typical St. Patrick's Day in Ashland, Ohio, the wind is howling, a snowy slush is falling from the sky and any baseball spectators are wrapped in layers of clothing and blankets.
This March 17 was nothing of the like. The AU baseball team swept a doubleheader from Malone underneath sunny skies with temperatures more resembling June than the middle of March.
Ashland claimed a 4-3 win in Game 1 before using a six-run fifth inning to blow open Game 2 for an 8-2 victory.
The Eagles improved to 8-5 on the season while the Pioneers slipped to 6-12.
The AU offense kicked in gear early as sophomore third baseman Tyler Gray (Plain City, Ohio/Jonathan Alder) rapped a two-run homer to left field in the first inning that also plated freshman second baseman Giancarlo Saia (Mentor, Ohio/Lake Catholic), who walked ahead of Gray. The Eagles followed with three straight singles for a third run in the inning with the RBI going to junior catcher John Broll (Mississagua, Ont./Genesee CC).
From there, Malone starter Jared Messer settled in and retired 14 straight batters, not including a pair of Eagles who reached via error.
It was still 3-0 in the top of the fourth when Logan Gray clubbed a 2-1 offering from AU starter Aaron Hilt (Richmond, Ohio/Edison) for a three-run homer to tie the game. Bob Suitca led off the inning with a double – the first hit off Hilt in the game. Hilt worked around another single following the home run to prevent further damage.
Broll, the only Eagle with two hits in the game, reached on an infield single to start the bottom of the sixth. With one out, freshman designated hitter Kyle Vozar (Hinckley, Ohio/Medina Highland) singled to put runners on the corners.
Freshman Stephen James (Westlake, Ohio), pinch-hitting for junior shortstop Matt Gundlach (Monroeville, Ohio/Sandusky Perkins), chopped a high bouncer toward first base that allowed junior outfielder Shayne Herold (LeRoy, N.Y./Genesee CC) to score from third to give the Eagles a 4-3 lead.
Junior right-hander Zach Botjer (Deshler, Ohio/Sinclair CC) relieved Hilt to start the seventh and allowed a leadoff single to Marc Adams. Adams went to second on a sacrifice bunt and to third on a deep flyout to center. Botjer picked up his first save of the season by striking out Matt Anderson to finish the game.
Hilt (3-1) picked up the win, allowing three runs on six hits in six innings. He struck out four and walked one, while throwing 87 pitches. Messer picked up the loss for the Pioneers, despite tossing a complete game. He allowed four runs on seven hits. He struck out six.
The Eagles opened Game 2 with their first run in the bottom of the first inning. Senior outfielder Zach Thompson (Marshalltown, Iowa/Cleveland State) drew a walk on four pitches to start the inning and sophomore outfielder Wade Kaido (Zanesville, Ohio) knocked him in with a looping double to right-center.
AU added a second run in the fourth inning as Herold singled, stole second and went to third on a sac bunt. Freshman designated hitter Tyler Bires (Lorain, Ohio/Amherst Steele) hit a hard grounder to shortstop, but Joe Piporo's throw was not in time to beat Herold, who slid in safely.
Meanwhile, junior right-hander Brad Thomas (Orrville, Ohio) was cruising. He allowed just three hits in the first five innings before the Eagles broke the game open in the sixth.
The Eagles sent 12 batters to the plate in the inning. Saia drove in the first run on a single to center field that scored Gray, who reached on a wild pitch on a swinging third strike. Bires followed with an RBI single and sophomore catcher Chaz McGrain (Valley City, Ohio/Olmsted Falls) knocked in a pair with a bases-loaded single. Thompson drove in a run on a sacrifice fly and Kaido's RBI single up the middle brought in Ashland's final run.
Thomas ran into some trouble in the sixth inning, surrendering two runs, but sophomore left-hander Cole Hudson (Dresden, Ohio/Zanesville) finished the inning with no further damage.
Thomas (2-0) earned the win, allowing just two runs on five hits in 5.1 innings pitched. He struck out four and did not walk a batter. Hudson tossed 1.2 hitless innings, striking out one.
Malone starter Alex Haines took the loss, allowing eight runs (five earned) on eight hits. He struck out four and walked three.
Kaido was 3-for-4 in Game 2 with a double and two RBI. Bires and McGrain drove in two runs apiece and Saia was 2-for-3 at the plate.
With this summer-like weather expected to continue, the Eagles host Walsh University on Wednesday (March 21) at 3 p.m. for a single game with the Cavaliers at Donges Field. AU opens GLIAC play on Saturday (March 24) at Northwood at 1 p.m.