Timely bunting and 15 hits were enough to propel the visiting University of Pacific Tigers to a 9-6 victory over the Sacramento State Hornets today at John Smith Field.
The game was a rematch from two weeks prior at Pacific. The Hornets won the first meeting 3-2, where both teams combined for 15 hits.
Pacific (8-27) recorded three bunt singles and successfully completed four sacrifice bunts. They began a trend early with leadoff hitter Tyler Sullivan laying down a bunt successfully to start the game. He later scored on Louis Mejia’s sacrifice bunt. Next, Dallas Correa’s RBI single to left field was the first ball to leave the infield for the Tigers and managed to be up 2-0 over the Hornets.
“The wind was blowing in today,” said Sac State coach Reggie Christiansen. “I told our team whichever team kept the ball out of the air was going to win. I think them bunting so much was how they adjusted to the wind.”
Sac State (19-16) answered by taking a page out of the visitor’s strategy. After Nathan Lukes’ RBI double to right-center, Scotty Burcham evened the game at two apiece with his RBI bunt single in an eventful first inning.
UOP’s Sullivan’s two-run double down the right field line put Pacific up 4-2 in the top half of the second. Sac State’s Devin Lehman’s RBI single to center field in the bottom half of the inning moved the Hornets within one at 4-3.
In the fifth inning the visitors returned to their small ball ways. After Sullivan’s dribbler was able to squeak through the right side of the Hornets’ infield to begin the frame, a passed ball followed by a wild pitch by Hornets’ reliever Grant Kukuk advanced the Tigers’ leadoff man to third base. Pacific then called a squeeze play, as Correa was able to bunt Sullivan in for the second time today, to put the Tigers ahead 5-3.
Lukes’ towering solo shot to right field brought the hosts within one again at 5-4; however, it was the closest they would get.
“I never go up there looking for the big shot,” Lukes said. “I was able to get good contact and was just trying to get us back into the game.”
Pacific busted the game open in the top of the eighth inning as Justin Thaxton doubled to lead off the inning. He was advanced over by a bunt, before the Tigers again put on a suicide squeeze. This time it was JJ Wagner successfully laying down the RBI bunt. Sullivan followed with a triple to score Wagner.
The Hornets’ made things interesting with Vinny Esposito’s RBI triple in the eighth, moving the hosts within four at 9-5. Brandon Hunley was beaned in the ninth and advanced to third after two consecutive balks by the Tigers’ Vince Arobio. Lehman drove him in with an RBI ground out, but UOP’s Arobio was able to strike out Lukes to end the threat and game.
Pacific’s offense was led by Sullivan (5-for-5, 3 RBIs) and JJ Wagner (4-for-4, 1 RBI). The Hornets had nine hits as a team and were led by Burcham (3-for-4, 1 RBI), Lukes (2-for-5, 2 RBIs) and Lehman (2-for-5, 2 RBIs).
Cory Popham pitched five innings, allowing four runs to get the win for Pacific. Jake Stassi pitched the first two innings and was charged all four runs in taking the loss for Sac State.
Both team’s bullpens were taxed due to the short outings from their starters. Pacific’s bullpen pitched four innings, allowing two earned runs. Sac State’s bullpen pitched seven innings, allowing five runs––three of which were earned.
“It is part of the game,” said Hornets’ closer Sutter Mcloughlin, when asked how frustrating all of Pacific’s bunts were. “As a pitcher it is definitely tough at times to make plays on the ball, but it is something that we as a team have to adjust to.”