MOUNT CARMEL -- To date, Wabash Valley College baseball has been truly dominant, leading the nation in the vast majority of hitting categories.
They rank first nationally in OBP (.514), first in slugging percentage (.617), first in stolen bases (154), walks (238), runs batted in (345), as well as second in runs (380) and batting average (.375).
That hitting roll maintained its onward path on Tuesday evening, as the Warriors defeated Volunteer State 11-5 at Wabash Valley College.
The Warriors struck for a run in each of the first three innings, two from sophomore first baseman Cael Baker, who hit a sacrifice fly and a solo home run, the other, a bases loaded walk from sophomore center fielder Noah Myers.
Wabash Valley College head coach Rob Fournier used a variety of guys on the mound today, as he did his best to get his bullpen some rhythm heading into the second half of the season. They did struggle at times today, however, but overall kept the Pioneers at bay.
"We made a commitment that we have to see some guys right now," Fournier said. "If we're going to do what we're going to do, we have to rely on some guys that we hadn't seen pitched, some of the guys hadn't pitched for three or four weeks, but we made a commitment, stuck with it and did a nice job."
A combination of sophomore righty Jon Beymer and sophomore southpaw Andy Samuelson battled through the first three innings for the Warriors and limited the Pioneers to just a pair of hits and a run, but Volunteer State drew the game even after Samuelson was replaced. Freshman Connor Fenlong came on in relief and a rocky 1-3 of an inning. The first Pioneer baserunner reached on an error by third baseman Freylin Mineyte. He then stole second and scored on an RBI single. The fourth batter of the inning hit a single and Myers appeared to lose the ball in the sun, which got past him, advancing the pair of runners to second and third -- forcing Fournier's hand to make a pitching change.
Freshman righty Price Adams entered and allowed a sacrifice fly to the first batter, followed by a single, but forced the next Pioneer batter to flyout to end the scoring threat, though the game was now at an even 3-3 draw. Both runs were charged to Fenlong.
In the bottom half of the fourth the Warriors loaded the bases with none out and had a tremendous scoring opportunity, but failed to capitalize. Volunteer State retired Baker, sophomore second baseman Brian Fuentes and freshman right fielder Mason Sykes to escape the inning unscathed.
"Absolutely," Fournier spoke of the Warriors stranding the runners. "It's something we talked about, we have to be able to go back side. We're pulling on the baseball, trying to do too much. For us to get better, that's something we made an adjustment earlier in the year, six or seven games ago, but today we weren't able to do it. To our credit, that was a major letdown but we didn't let it affect us the rest of the game which I was really proud of, because that can get you."
For this team, a two inning drought without scoring feels like a lifetime and they were determined to break that drought in the sixth inning. The Warriors exploded for five runs in the inning, first off an RBI double by Fuentes, then a two RBI double by Sykes, a sacrifice fly by sophomore DH Miguel Rivera, and lastly Sykes scoring on a wild pitch. The outburst inflated the score to an 8-3 WVC lead.
Freshman righty Brandon McPherson was on the mound during the scoring outburst and picked up the win as a result. McPherson (2-0) pitched 1 1-3 innings, allowing a run that was charged to him due to a walk in the seventh inning, and striking out one batter.
WVC tacked on three additional late runs, two off a two RBI double by Fuentes, then lastly an RBI single by freshman Kirk Liebert. Fuentes led the Warriors bats with his 3-for-5 day, with three RBIs, followed by Baker's 2-for-3, solo shot and two RBI outing, and Myers' 1-for-1, three run, one RBI, four walk outing with his impressive patience at the dish.
Though the bullpen was heavily in the mix today, Fournier plans to begin allowing his starters to go further into games as the season winds down. Today was more about getting guys loose and seeing what they'll have available in relief for the future.
"We're at the point in the season where we need to stretch out our starters now," Fournier said. "I like our bullpen a lot, but we need our starters to go, give us six innings. Anything after that, we'll be in great shape. They have to be able to give us quality starts. We have to have three quality starts to win this series, if we do that, we'll have a chance to do what we're hopefully supposed to do."
Wabash Valley (31-1) now sits just one game shy of a 30-game win streak, a truly astonishing number. With a victory against Rend Lake on Thursday at home, the Warriors could capture that feat.
"We have Rend Lake Thursday, conference game, and on Saturday. They're a very good team, from here on out we have some of the best teams in the conference. We're looking forward to it. We like where we're at, we got our bullpen rested for the guys we need this weekend, so I think we're in line to play good baseball."
Thursday's game is slated for a 3 p.m. first pitch time and will begin a three-game series with Rend Lake, that will carry into Saturday with the remaining two games coming at Rend Lake in a doubleheader beginning at noon.
WVC -- 1 1 1 0 0 5 2 1 X -- 11
VS -- 0 1 0 2 0 0 1 0 1 -- 5
WVC hitting: Myers 1-for-1, 3 R, RBI, 4 BB, 2 SB. Fuentes 3-for-5, R, 3 RBIs, 2B. Baker 2-for-3, HR, 2 RBIs, 2 R. Sykes 1-for-5, R, 2 RBIs, 2B. Rivera 1-for-3, 2 R, RBI. Pinales 0-for-1, 2 BB, 2 R. Liebert 1-for-1, RBI.
Pitching: WP -- McPherson (2-0) 1 1-3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 K.; LP -- Duffee (0-1) 2 1-3 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB.