AUSTIN, Texas (March 14, 2014) – Lubbock Christian University overcame a pair of strong starting pitching performances to sweep No.10 St. Edward’s University 4-3 and 3-1 in a Heartland Conference doubleheader Saturday afternoon at Lucian-Hamilton Field.
The opening game featured a pitcher’s duel between LCU’s Brig Gerlich and reigning NCAA Div. II National Pitcher of the Week Brannon Easterling, as they each went the distance. The Hilltoppers looked like they were going to have the early advantage in the opening inning after they loaded the bases with one out, but Gerlich got out of the jam forcing CJ Manning to hit into a 4-6-3 double play to keep the game scoreless. LCU used that momentum of the double play in the top of the second inning, as Joel Lutz blasted a lead-off solo shot over the left field fence for his seventh homer of the season and a 1-0 lead. Lutz was involved in the next Chaps run as well. He took a 3-2 pay-off pitch with two outs, which was ruled a ball to reach on a walk, and Wigberto Nevarez followed with a two-run home run over the right-centerfield fence for a 3-0 lead. Kevin Mayo placed the Hilltoppers on the scoreboard with a RBI-single in the fourth inning to cut LCU’s lead to 3-1. LCU produced five hits in the game and their first three resulted in runs. Wade Stramp produced what proved to be the difference for the Chaps in the fifth inning with a two-out single to score Ethan Kohnle for a 4-1 advantage. Gerlich’s toughest task was to hold-off a late seventh inning rally by SEU. Cutter Runte produced SEU’s only extra-base hit with a triple to score Mayo and Runte would score on an ensuing ground-out by Wes Koenig to cut LCU’s lead to 4-3. Ransom LaLonde made things interesting with a single, but the game would end on a fly out to centerfield and the Chaps would hold for the win.
Runte went 3-for-4 with an RBI in the loss for SEU. The Hilltoppers had their 11-game home win streak end with the loss. Easterling fell to 3-4 with the loss. He allowed a trio of earned runs off five hits and struck out six batters in the complete game effort. Gerlich stayed perfect on the season for LCU, improving to 6-0 in his second complete game of the season. He allowed three runs off eight hits. Lutz was 2-for-2 at the plate in the win.
The second game was also tough for the Chaps to garner scoring opportunities, as ‘Toppers pitcher Collin Sherrod held the Chaps to two hits over the first six innings of his seven-inning outing. Despite the lack of hits, the Chaps took advantage of four SEU errors in the game. In the top of the third inning, Kohnle and Brett Kauten each reached on errors and Wade Stramp’s first sacrifice bunt of the season was followed by Jesse Pintado’s first sacrifice fly of the season and LCU took a 1-0 lead. Tim Carlson took the hill for LCU and held SEU off the scoreboard until Koenig hit a solo home run to lead off the bottom of the sixth inning to tie the game at 1-1. It was the first homer allowed by Carlson on the season. After 123 pitches, Sherrod was replaced in the eighth inning and the Chaps took advantage of the SEU bullpen. Cameron Stanton faced three batters in the eighth inning and all three would reach. Lutz would end up scoring on a Brett Wilhelm sacrifice fly with the bases loaded and Kauten would plate Nevarez with his first two-out RBI of the season with a single through the right side of the infield. Dalton Silva, who claimed the win for LCU (3-0), allowed two hits over three innings of relief and struck out five of the 12 batters he faced. He avoided a one-out single in the ninth inning by forcing a pair of fly outs to seal the win.
Sherrod struck out 11 LCU batters over his seven innings and allowed only three hits. His performance marked the most strikeouts by a Chaps opposing pitcher since Julian Merryweather of Oklahoma Baptist struck out 12 LCU batters on May, 3, 2013 at the Sooner Athletic Conference Tournament. The loss went to Stanton (0-1). Nevarez went 2-for-3 at the plate for LCU and was their lone multi-hit performer. Lutz had a hit in each game and extended his hit streak to 16 games and his consecutive streak of games to reach base safely to 22 games.
The Chaps have won seven consecutive games and six consecutive Heartland Conference games. They improve to 16-7 overall and 10-1 in conference play. SEU falls to 16-8 overall and 4-4 in conference. The Chaps are now 4-1 against ranked opponents this season and 2-0 amongst top-10 programs. The contests were the first against SEU since the two programs last met on Mar. 16, 2003. The Chaps and Hilltoppers close out the three-game conference series Saturday at 1 p.m. with a nine-inning contest.