Tigers end season-opening series with win
Junior Zach Willis and the Tigers baseball team took one of three games over the weekend in the season-opening series against the Illinois State Redbirds. Photo By David C. Minkin | special to the daily helmsman
On a chilly Sunday afternoon in February, the University of Memphis baseball team ended the season-opening series with a win. Following two losses against the Illinois State Redbirds to open the season, the Tigers beat the Redbirds 5-2 on Sunday with a combination of effective small-ball strategy and excellent pitching from a couple of new faces.
Alex Gunn, a junior transfer from Hinds Community College, pitched a solid first three innings. The left-hander only allowed a two-out triple in the third, but the runner was left stranded.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers used a Redbirds error in order to jump out to their first lead of the day. Memphis got a runner on base after an error on the throw to first. A couple of infield singles later, the Tigers had taken the lead at 2-0, with runners on first and second with one out. However, the next two batters would strike out, leaving two runners on base.
The Redbirds scored in the fifth inning, however, by scoring off an error. Before the error, the Redbirds stroked a couple of singles down the foul lines to get runners on first and second with no outs. Junior College transfer Jon Reed fired a pick-off throw to first, and the first baseman was not expecting the throw and could not catch it.
During the frenzy following the throw, the runner from second scored and the runner on first advanced to third. A miscommunication in signs created the error, but it was the only one on the day for the Tigers. It would also be the only inning that Illinois State would score in, as they tied the game at 2-2 after a sacrifice fly in the top of the fifth.
By the seventh inning, the Tigers had regained momentum, as the team threatened to score in the sixth with runners on second and third with one out. Redbirds pitcher Dan Savas would strike out the next batter and be replaced by freshman Will Headean. The Illinois native loaded the bases by walking the batter and getting the next Tiger to fly out to get out of the inning.
Headean escaped the sixth by a thin margin, but did not fare so well in the bottom of the seventh. With two outs and a runner on first, a wild throw to first resulted in an error that advanced the runner to third. Sophomore Carter White then smoothly struck the ball into left field for a single, scoring the runner.
Next up to the plate, Tucker Tubbs brought White home with a double down the left field line. The next batter grounded out to end the inning, but the damage was done, and Headean was attributed with the Redbirds' loss.
Striving through the two-out pressure, the Tigers created a two run advantage and never looked back from there.
After the fifth inning, no Illinois State player would reach base, as Reed earned the win by not allowing another hit from the sixth through the eighth, even striking out the side in the eighth. To close the game, the Tigers brought out junior Jonathan Van Eaton, who retired the side in nine pitches for his first save of the year.
The Tigers play Tuesday at FedEx Park against Arkansas State. Left-hander Michael Willis is scheduled to start for Memphis against Bradley Wallace at 4 p.m.
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