Valdosta Daily Times

February 16, 2014

Staying hot

Blazers rout Hawks in Game 1 before holding on in Game 2

Derrick Davis
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Excellent pitching and a grinding offensive attack propelled undefeated Valdosta State to a doubleheader sweep of the Shorter Hawks 10-0, 3-1 in the Blazers’ first Gulf South Conference games of the 2014 season.

VSU moved to 8-0 with the two comfortable wins against struggling Shorter — the Hawks fell to just 1-8.

Dominic DeMasi started the first game of the doubleheader with a perfect 1-0 record and a clean 0.00 ERA; after the game, DeMasi’s ERA remained spotless, but he would tack on his second win of the season behind seven innings and five strikeouts in the mercy rule-shortened victory.

“Honestly, I’ve just been trying to compete and throw strikes and see how far they can hit it, and it’s been working out in my favor recently,” said DeMasi.

With DeMasi locked, in the Blazers didn’t need much offense, but they got more than enough from a lineup that had averaged 13 runs a game coming into Saturday.

Third baseman Michael Gouge gave the Blazers a 1-0 lead in the second inning with a home run to left field, the first home run of his career and just part of his impressive afternoon. Gouge went 2-for-3 with three RBIs, two runs scored, and a web-gem worthy play in the first game of the doubleheader.

“It feels good, I put a lot of work in and it’s nice to see it pay off,” said Gouge. “I played this summer a lot, got more at-bats this summer and I thought I’d be ready for the spring.”

VSU’s 1-0 lead held until the bottom of the fourth inning when the Blazers ran off four runs on an error and four hits — all singles — to take a 5-0 lead. Three hits produced three more runs in the sixth inning, and then two more runs in the seventh made for the shortened win.

While the Blazers’ offense scratched out runs, DeMasi held the Hawks to just two baserunners from the fourth through sixth innings. After Saturday, the Blazers have outscored their opponents 45-4 in the middle innings this season.

In the second game of the doubleheader, VSU’s trend of mid-game scoring outbursts ended, leaving the Blazers’ pitching to hold onto an early lead for the sweep.

VSU began the second game where they left off after the first, a red-hot offense and dominating pitching.

Right fielder Jimmy Dowdell brought home Matthew Fears on a groundout to give the Blazers a quick 1-0 lead. The next inning VSU struck again, this time Gouge made his way around the bases after a leadoff hit-by-pitch put him on board. Three batters later, Clint Carr drove Gouge in with a single, and Carr then scored on a Mike Reed double to make it 3-0.

Once again, as VSU’s offense put runs up, the pitching held Shorter in check, this time it was Josh Mann befuddling Hawks hitters. Mann pitched 5 1-3 innings while striking out six. Mann also allowed five walks.

However, once the Blazers reached the fourth inning in Game 2 instead of putting the game out of reach, VSU’s bats went ice cold. Two Blazers were picked off for back-to-back outs by Shorter’s Justin Machado to end the fourth inning, beginning a streak of seven consecutive outs.

VSU coach Greg Guilliams suspects the pace Machado went to kept his team off-balance at the plate in Game 2.

“I think it was a combination of a couple of things,” said Guilliams. “One, their pitcher, Machado, really did a good job of slowing the pitches up. He threw a lot slower and he was pretty smart. With good hitters you want to throw it slower to them.

“Then I think, unfortunately, our guys sat on the lead. Josh Mann was pitching so well, they just kind of sat on the lead, and then of course you never know what’s going to happen. So that was a little disappointing, having a lead and not being able to add to it. But at the same time I thought their guy’s pitching plan was pretty good; I just don’t think we adjusted well.”

WIth the Blazers’ bats finally held at bay, the Hawks tried to pull out a victory against their undefeated GSC foes. Shorter put two men on base in the top of the sixth inning thanks to a single and a walk, both given up by Mann, before another walk from VSU closer Ethan Bornstein loaded the bases.

Bornstein hit Chad Ikerd to push across Mann’s inherited baserunner before getting the last two outs of the inning.

Holding just a two-run lead, Guilliams decided to bring Bornstein back out for the seventh inning and the closer rewarded his coach’s faith. Bornstein walked the first batter of the inning before striking out the side.

“I thought, this being the first conference weekend, as you know the closer position is very stressful, and I think he was a little nervous, but when he settled down he stuck the last three guys out,” said Guilliams. “There’s a reason I wanted him in that role. Out of high school he played at the University of Miami. He’s played at the highest level.

“He’s very good, and I feel out of all our pitchers, with his stuff and his demeanor, that he’s the best guy to use at the end of a ballgame.”

VSU will face Shorter at Billy Grant Field once more today at 3 p.m. as part of the “Bark in the Park” event. Fans are encouraged to bring their dogs to the field to join in the festivities.