By ZACH GILLELAND
The Salisbury University baseball team (4-4) won its second consecutive game Thursday, holding off a five-run Shoremen (0-3) rally to escape with a 7-6 win.
Following the fireworks of a 13-12 walk-off win over Oswego St. on Sunday, the Sea Gulls took the field to start a four games in four days stretch. The maroon and gold needed a strong outing from junior right-hander Brad Keith to give the bullpen a rest ahead of a hectic weekend.
With a Salisbury pitching staff donning a 7.43 ERA coming into the contest, Keith had arguably his strongest performance on the mound Thursday. Aside from a tough seventh inning, the junior pitched ahead in counts and limited solid contact, allowing his fielders behind him to make easy outs.
“I felt good coming out,” Keith said. “I felt good with my fastball command especially early on I was able to get guys out early in the count. [Washington College] was swinging at early pitches and got a lot of ground balls to shortstop and second which allowed me to get into a rhythm.”
“I feel like I’m doing pretty well with my command which is keeping them off-balanced and getting so many ground balls.”
The right-hander finished the game with a season high six and a third innings pitched. Just the fourth time a SU pitcher made it to the sixth inning, Keith finished with five earned runs off nine hits, striking out three off 104 pitches. After walking six in his previous outing, the starter allowed only three free passes Thursday.
“Walks have killed us the entire year,” SU head coach Troy Brohawn said. “I thought we stayed out of that good today.”
The Sea Gulls wasted no time getting into the run column, scoring in the first inning for the fourth time this season. After a hit-and-run off the bat of senior second baseman Pete Grasso put runners on first and third, freshman center fielder Justin Meekins stole home off of a double steal attempt to give Salisbury an early lead.
After the Sea Gulls tacked on another run in the second, the Shoremen answered in the top of the third. Freshman designated hitter Ryan Zwier connected on a solo homer to left center just below the scoreboard to make it a 2-1 game. Washington threatened again with the bases loaded and its No. 3 hitter at the plate, but Keith induced a ground ball to end the inning.
Salisbury had its biggest success in the fourth, scoring five runs. Three-consecutive infield singles loaded the bases for the Sea Gulls, ending the day for Shoreman junior right-hander Nick Popolizio. The Washington bullpen struggled with its command, and SU jumped to a 7-1 lead.
Salisbury could not build off the inning as the big bats of the maroon and gold went silent. The Shoremen held the Sea Gulls to just two hits and no runs for the rest of the game.
After adding a run in the sixth, the Shoremen rallied in the top of the seventh. Back-to-back singles put Washington in business and a three-run shot by senior first baseman Evan Hirschbaum barely cleared the 325-foot sign in left, cutting the lead to two.
An RBI single by junior left fielder Matt Tancredi put the Shoremen within one, leading Coach Brohawn to call on Grasso to pitch. The senior struck out back-to-back batters to end the inning and the Washington rally.
The righty slammed the door shut in the ninth inning. A diving stop by sophomore second baseman Will Gutekunst stopped a would-be leadoff single, and Grasso struck out Zwier on a breaking ball in the dirt to clinch a Sea Gull victory.
A dual-threat for Salisbury, Grasso recorded the save on the mound and produced two hits at the plate.
“I was just pounding the strike zone, Coach [Brohawn] preaches that we have to compete out there,” the senior said. “You get amped up when you get called to the mound. Adrenaline takes over.”
Offensively the Sea Gull bats tallied nine hits throughout with five different players contributing an RBI.
The action continues this weekend as Salisbury hosts Franklin & Marshall Saturday for a 1 p.m. start. Dickinson College will head to town Sunday for a doubleheader.
“I thought overall we played pretty solid,” Coach Brohawn said. “I thought for the first time this year we were aggressive on the mound. The tempo, pace, rhythm and everything out there was better than previous games.”