Sure-fire fielding and dependable pitching carried the University of Jamestown baseball team to a solid spring start over the weekend in Joplin, Missouri.
The Jimmies cruised to four victories in five games over three days but would like to see a little more consistency on offense. Jamestown defeated Graceland (Iowa), Presentation (S.D.), Grand View (Iowa) and Saint Mary (Kansas) down south, improving to 6-5 overall.
"I thought we really pitched it and played excellent defense the entire trip, and it starts with pitching and defense," said Jimmie baseball coach Tom Hager. "But we need to have more quality at-bats. There was some inconsistency offensively and that's something that we gotta shore up this week."
The Jimmies will return to Missouri at the end of the week, replacing the team's annual trip to the Tucson Invitational Games in Arizona, which was canceled due to COVID-19.
The Jimmies will first play four games at Culver-Stockton College (2-6) in Canton, Missouri, on March 6-7, before heading to Hannibal, Missouri, on March 9 to play two against Hannibal-LaGrange (2-0). Jamestown will then return to Joplin on March 12-13 to play four games against No. 6-ranked Louisiana State University-Shreveport (5-3).
"To go on a five-game road trip to begin the season and win four out of five, we felt like it was a good trip," Hager said. "But we're definitely better."
Meraz walks-off Jimmies over Yellowjackets
Matt Meraz was the man of the hour for UJ out of the gate 2021.
The senior left fielder from Aurora, Colorado, lined a bases-loaded, one-out single to left to walk-off the Jimmies 4-3 over Iowa's Graceland University Yellowjackets on Friday. The game was the first action of the spring for either team. Graceland went 6-17 in last year's season-shortened campaign.
"(Meraz) had some really good swings that game," Hager said. "He battled an eight-pitch at-bat, got some really good looks and squared one up ... but it started with getting the lead-off guy on that inning."
The bottom of the seventh began with a lead-off double by UJ's Brian Rice off Graceland's Jacob Taft. Rice later advanced to third on a fly-out by shortstop Grant Okawa and intentional free passes granted to middle-of-the-order bats Luke Shekeryk and Lincoln Trujillo brought Meraz to the plate.
Shekeryk batted 1-for-1 with a two-run homer and a pair of walks. His bomb to right in the fifth, scoring Okawa from second who had doubled earlier, tied the game at 3-3.
UJ starting pitcher Dru Fitz pitched five innings, allowing three runs and striking out five. UJ senior relievers Andy Reed and Austin Pesicka teamed up to pitch hitless frames in the sixth and seventh.
"What an outstanding pitching performance we had in that game and I think that goes unnoticed," Hager said. "It was a huge swing by Meraz but outstanding pitching as well. Dru gave us a legit quality start and we think our bullpen is really good, and, certainly, those guys did a heckuva job that day."
University of Jamestown 4, Graceland University (Iowa) 3
GRA 100 020 0 -- 3 5 0
JAM 100 020 1 -- 4 6 0
Cody Ferguson, Felix Lopez (4), Chalin Dassau (5), Jacob Taft (6) and Zak Scheller. Dru Fitz, Andy Reed (6), Austin Pesicka (7). W--Pesicka. L--Taft.
Highlights: Fitz 5 IP, 5 H, 3 R, 3 ER, 1 BB, 8 SO; Reed 1 IP, 0 H, 2 SO; Pesicka 1 IP, 0 H, 1 SO; Grant Okawa 2-3, 2B, BB, R; Lincoln Trujillo 1-3, 3B, BB, RBI; Luke Shekeryk 1-1, HR, 2 BB, 2 R, 2 RBI; Brian Rice 1-3, 2B, R.
Records: Jamestown 3-4. Graceland 0-1.
Mills mows 'em down
Payson Mills mowed through Presentation College, South Dakota, from the mound on Saturday.
UJ's right-handed starting sophomore from Blackfoot, Idaho, tossed six hitless innings and struck out 13 batters in a 4-1 victory over the Saints. Mills' first start for the Jimmies included fanning Presentation designated hitter Wolf'Don Thorson three times.
The Saints dropped to 2-8 on the season.
"He's a guy that we think can do some special things and he showed it," Hager said of Mills. "The six innings ... just absolutely dominating and we're looking for more of that from Payson."
Hager said Mills is capable of mixing a solid fastball with offspeed and isn't shy of attacking hitters.
All of the Jimmies' damage came in the first inning off PC starter Samuel Garner, beginning with a one-out solo homer off the bat of Grant Okawa. Matt Meraz drove in a run with a single after walks issued to both Luke Shekeryk and Lincoln Trujillo, and an RBI ground-out put into play by Kendall Yackley also highlighted the four-run first.
"We were able to score some runs early against Presentation and I think we got a little comfortable with Payson throwing," Hager said. "It's easy to just sit there and watch a guy go like he did, but, again, we gotta be more consistent offensively and not only score early, score often."
Aaron Pugh finished the game on the mound in the seventh for UJ, giving up a pair of hits including a run-scoring single to Saints' catcher Zach Edwards.
University of Jamestown 4, Presentation College (SD) 1
PRE 000 000 1 -- 1 2 1
JAM 400 000 0 -- 4 3 1
Samuel Garner, Brendan Delgado (5) and Zach Edwards. Payson Mills, Aaron Pugh (7) and Connor Mormon. W-- Mills. L-- Garner.
Highlights: Mills 6 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 1 BB, 13 SO; Pugh 1 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 BB, 0 SO; Grant Okawa 1-3, HR, RBI; Matt Meraz 1-3, R, RBI; Kendall Yackley 0-2, RBI; Luke Shekeryk 1-1, R, 2 BB.
Records: Jamestown 4-4. Presentation 2-8.
Accurate Akiya leads to Dudley bomb
A good start from senior Kensaku Akiya on the hill Saturday was crucial in the Jimmies defeating Iowa's Grand View University Vikings 1-0.
The senior righty from Kawasaki, Japan, tossed four innings of scoreless ball with a pair of strikeouts before handing the baseball over to junior Cameron Jenkins following a weather delay in the fifth. Jenkins earned the win and Andy Reed closed the door in the sixth and seventh in the shutout.
"Ken pitched with pinpoint accuracy on the mound," Hager said. "He was able to locate his fastball, work in offspeed and give us four quality innings before a 25-minute rain delay. We went to our bullpen and got three great innings from our pen."
A Dylan Dudley one-out, solo home run on the first pitch he saw off Grand View starter Parker Thode in the top of the sixth accounted for the game's only offense. Four of Jamestown's six hits were of the extra-base variety, as the Jimmies stranded five runners.
"Dylan's a guy that's got some juice in his bat," Hager said of the left-handed hitter from Cottage Grove, Oregon. "He got a pitch he could handle, drove it to the opposite-field gap and, thankfully, he got it out of the ballpark."
The Vikings dropped to 1-2 with the loss after playing to a 3-14 mark last spring prior to the cancelation of NAIA athletics.
University of Jamestown 1, Grand View University (Iowa) 0
JAM 000 001 0 -- 1 6 0
GRA 000 000 0 -- 0 5 0
Kensaku Akiya, Cameron Jenkins (5), Andy Reed (6) and Dirk Eymundson. Parker Thode and Caleb McDowell. W--Jenkins. L--Thode. S--Reed.
Highlights: Akiya 4 IP, 4 H, 0 R, 2 BB, 2 SO; Jenkins 1 IP, 0 H, 1 BB, 1 SO; Reed 2 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 SO. Grant Okawa 1-3, 2B; Dylan Dudley 2-3, HR, RBI; Tayler Cullen 1-2, 2B; Brice Foster 1-3, 2B.
Records: Jamestown 5-4. Grand View 1-2.
Statesmen stifle Jimmies in lone setback
The Jimmies struck first Sunday against the William Penn University Statesmen, but from there they were unable to solve left-handed junior Teddy Natter.
The Statesmen junior from Reno, Nevada, shut out the Jimmies over the next five frames to hand UJ its only loss of the trip 6-1. William Penn improved to 5-1 after cruising to 20 wins in 30 games last season.
"We faced a really good lefty today from William Penn and he got the best of us," Hager said. "We had several opportunities with runners in scoring position and couldn't capitalize, and early in the game when you have those chances against a really good pitcher you've gotta do damage."
A Lincoln Trujillo RBI single in the first pushed the first run across the plate before the Statesmen plated four in the top of the fourth. Brice Foster shouldered the loss for the Jimmies on the mound.
William Penn University (Iowa) 6, University of Jamestown 1
WP 000 411 0 -- 6 7 0
UJ 100 000 0 -- 1 4 3
Brice Foster, Trey Evans (5), Chase Hacker (6) and Morman. Teddy Natter, Jacob Wiechman (7) and Jaylan Jones. W--Natter. L--Foster.
Highlights: Foster 4 2/3 IP, 4 R, 5 ER, 2 H, 2 SO, 3 BB; Evans 1/3 IP, 1 R, 1 H; Hacker 2 IP, 0 R, 2 H; Lincoln Trujillo 1-3, RBI; Brian Rice 1-3, R, BB.
Records: Jimmies 5-5. William Penn 6-1.
Jimmies bounce back facing Spires
The Jimmies wasted no time jumping back into the saddle Sunday, putting five runs on the board in the top of the first inning in an 8-3 victory over the University of Saint Mary, Kansas.
The opening-frame barrage was highlighted by a two-run double off the bat of junior left fielder Tayler Cullen and a two-run single put into play by senior second baseman Brice Foster.
Cullen would later club a solo homer in the sixth before Shekeryk launched a two-run bomb over the fence in the seventh. Shekeryk batted 3-for-4 with three RBIs.
UJ's Kendall Yackley started on the hill and allowed just a single run through four innings of work with four strikeouts. The Spires dropped to 0-8.
"Really proud of how our guys responded in game 2 (Sunday)," Hager said. "Yackley gave us a quality start and (Aaron) Pugh came in and sealed the deal at the end. We were able to piecemeal some runs together and then got a big blow from Shekeryk.
"To be able to respond after getting beat up the way we did in game 1, I was really proud of how our guys came back."
University of Jamestown 8, University of St. Mary (Kan.) 1
JAM 500 001 2 -- 8 11 1
USM 001 002 0 -- 3 11 0
Kendall Yackley, Cameron Multer (5), Austin Pesicka (6), Aaron Pugh (6) and Dirk Eymundson. Joshua Robinson, Johnny Vasquez (6) and Antonia Valentin. W--Yackley. L--Robinson
Highlights: Yackley 4 IP, 1 R, 1 ER, 4 H, 1 BB, 4 SO; Multer 1 1/3 IP, 1 R, 2 ER, 4 H, 1 SO, 1 BB; Luke Shekeryk 3-4, HR, 3 RBI; Tayler Cullen 2-3, HR, 2B, 3 RBI; Lincoln Trujillo 2-3; Brice Foster 2-3, 2 RBI.
Records: Jamestown 6-5. Saint Mary 0-8.