By Joshua J. Darling, Sports Information Director
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – No. 2/3 LaGrange (1-0, 0-0 CCS) turned what had been a pitcher's duel into a veritable blowout with a four-run eighth inning as they delivered a late inning 5-0 victory over No. 21/24 East Texas Baptist (2-2, 0-0 ASC) in an NCAA Division III baseball game on Friday, February 17.
Despite the final score, both teams would come out in mid-season form with an old school pitcher's duel as the first four innings would feature seven of the eight frames being of the 1-2-3 variety with just one hit. The latter would be by ETBU's Jacob Evangelista leading off the bottom of the first.
The fifth would see a hit a piece with junior catcher David Smigelski (Canton, Ga.) notching a leadoff single by and the Tigers' Parker Perez lacing a leadoff double that would go to waste following three straight strikeouts. The clubs would each net a single in the fifth and two-out singles the following inning as senior third baseman Joe Ruth (Chiefland, Fla.) drew a leadoff walk and stole second in the sixth and Austin Barry singled before a fly out cleared the inning.
It would be a completely different story in the top of the eighth, however, as LaGrange showed why they were a College World Series team last year and tabbed to be one of the best this year. As it so often does the damage started with a walk, that by junior outfielder Gabriel Pallo (Melbourne, Fla.), and was compounded by a throwing error that put runners on first and third.
Those miscues would come home to roost sooner rather than later as senior outfielder Rhett Mixon (Loganville, Ga.) raked a double to center to score Pallo and take a 1-0 lead. The hit parade would continue as freshman second baseman Jackson McElvy (Kennesaw, Ga.) singled through the right side to plate senior first baseman Matt Eden (Orange Park, Fla.) to double the lead.
McElvy swiped second and Ruth was intentionally walked to load the bases following the inning's first out. It wouldn't work out as ETBU had hoped as Smigelski poked a single to left field, scoring both runners and staking the Panthers to an insurmountable 4-0 lead before a pair of fly outs got them out of the inning.
After yet another scoreless frame in the bottom of the eighth, Gallo got the ninth started with a leadoff single and went to third on another error, this time on the pickup. Gifted the run, Mixon would make sure to take advantage as he lofted a sacrifice fly to right to score Pallo for the five-run lead. A pair of outs then sent the teams to the bottom of the ninth where East Texas Baptist got a pair of singles but nothing more as LC closed out the 5-0 victory.
Perez led the way for ETBU with a 2-for-4 day that included a double and no one else had any more than one hit. Leading that group would be Nick Massarini with a pinch hit to go 1-for-1 while Sayers Collins struck out eight over 7.1 innings, allowing four runs, three earned, to suffer the loss and drop to 1-1.
Mixon went 2-for-3 with a double, stolen base, two RBIs and a run scored to pace the Panthers while Smigelski was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. McElvy swiped a bag and added the only other RBI on the day to round out the offense. On the hill ace senior pitcher Baley Coleman (Hiram, Ga.) scattered three hits to notch six scoreless innings and freshman pitcher Eduardo Peralta (David, Chirqui, Panama) tossed two scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, to collect the win and move to 1-0 on the year.
The Panthers are back in action tomorrow, Saturday, February 18 with an early season showdown when they take on No. 4/4 Birmingham-Southern. First pitch is slated for 1 p.m.