After starting the 2021 season with a three-game sweep of Pikeville, the IU Southeast baseball team has had a fairly rough stretch as of late. Starting by being swept in three games by #5 Tennessee Wesleyan, the Grenadiers followed that performance with a trip to Sterlington, Louisiana, to compete in the annual Cajun Collision. Despite a comeback 9-8 victory over Benedictine College and a 5-4 win over #6 LSU Shreveport, the Grenadiers went 2-2 during the event, followed by an 8-5 loss at Cumberland University on Tuesday, Feb. 23.
The cold stretch didn’t get any better for the Grenadiers as they welcomed Huntington University for a four-game weekend series at Koetter Sports Complex. A mixture of clouds, rain, limited timely hitting, and blown early leads allowed the Foresters to upset the #11 Grenadiers, sweeping all four contests.
“We’re gonna fill up our plate every year with meat and potatoes, not junk food,” Reel said of the early schedule. “We’re gonna eat hearty meals, and that’s what we got this past weekend with Huntington.”
A Not-So Beautiful Day for a Ballgame
With clouds and the potential for rain surrounding Koetter Sports Complex for the first of two doubleheaders, the Grenadiers looked to get at least one quick victory before the rain struck on Friday, Feb. 26. The Grenadiers got a quick lead in the bottom of the first when Matt Monahan and Brody Tanksley hit back-to-back one-out singles, putting runners on first and third for Marco Romero’s RBI single to score Monahan. Ben Berenda added to the early assault with a single of his own, scoring courtesy runner John Ullom to give the Grenadiers an early 2-0 lead.
The Foresters first answered in the top of the third when Satchell Wilson and Camden Dice started the frame with consecutive singles. Grenadier starter Cade Reynolds then plunked catcher Eli Knust to load the bases for Langston Ginder. Ginder hit a fly ball to left, deep enough to score Wilson on a sacrifice fly. Reynolds forced Ian McCutcheon to fly out and struck out Daniel Lichty to end the threat for now.
The Foresters made their comeback against reliever Trevor Reynolds in the top of the sixth when McCutcheon led off with a single before Lichty hit a game-tying RBI double to left. After Lichty was bunted over to third, Jarret Gray singled to right to give the Foresters a 3-2 lead. The Grenadiers put the tying run in scoring position in the final two innings, having a runner at third in the bottom of the seventh. Hopes of tying the contest were dashed as Daunte DeCello grounded out to shortstop, allowing the Foresters to take game one 3-2.
The Grenadiers scored another first-inning run in the nightcap when Clay Woeste led off with a single and advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt. Monahan followed with a double to right to score Woeste.
While right-hander Drew Hensley had a solid three innings against the Foresters, striking out five, he ran into trouble in the fourth. Ginder and McCutcheon reached on consecutive errors before Lichty ripped a two-run triple. Gray followed with a single to give the Foresters a 4-1 advantage. Before the contest could continue, rain began to pour down around the complex. Despite trying to wait out the storm, play was eventually suspended until the following day.
“[Huntington] capitalized on a lot of our mistakes all series long,” Reel said. “We made numerous baserunning mistakes and pitching miscues, falling behind guys, and they did not miss when they swung the bat.”
Let’s Play Two (And a half)
With the suspended game still needing to be decided, the Grenadiers now had to resume play on top of the series-ending doubleheader to follow on Saturday, Feb. 27. The skies were mostly sunny, with temperatures almost reaching 60 degrees as opposed to the day before.
“It’s a much better day for baseball [than yesterday],” Outfielder Santrell Farmer said before the day’s activities.
The rain did not douse the Foresters’ firey bats when play resumed on Saturday. The Foresters tagged Hensley for another run off a wild pickoff attempt, chasing the right-hander from the contest. Tyler Yotkewich allowed an additional run before striking out Ginder to end the frame.
McCutcheon led off the top of the fifth by drawing a walk before stealing second, putting him in position for Lichty, driving a single to right. Despite replacing Yotkewich with right-hander Brenden Bube, Licthy advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt before scoring on a Wilson squeeze. By the time Bube got out of the inning, the Foresters led 7-3.
The Foresters capped off their offensive assault in the sixth when Ginder took an 0-1 count over the right-field fence for a home run. While the Grenadiers had opportunities to score in the sixth and seventh, they again failed to capitalize. The contest ended when Tanksley was picked off at first after reaching on a two-out single, giving the Foresters an 8-3 victory.
“When you execute in this game, it will reward you, especially when you do it consistently,” Reel said. “We just got a lot of kinks we need to work on. It’s like when we pitch well, we don’t hit well, and when we hit and pitch well, we don’t field well. It’s like you’re trying to climb vertically in quicksand.”
Similar to game one of the series, the Grenadiers tacked on three runs in the first. After Farmer reached on an error, Woeste doubled to right-center to drive Farmer home, followed by an RBI triple from Monahan. After a pitch from Dice hit Tanksley, Romero singled to right to score courtesy runner Brandon Boxer.
The Foresters took a run back in the second when Wilson hit a two-out triple to left-center before a Kallen Keisheimer RBI double brought Wilson home.
That single run was just the beginning for the Foresters as McCutcheon homered to left-center on the first pitch he saw off right-hander Jacob Frankel. The next three Foresters reached base before a sacrifice fly from Gray scored Lichty. Wilson followed with an RBI single before Keisheimer doubled to deep right-center to drive in two more, pushing the Forester advantage to 6-3.
The Foresters’ assault continued in the top of the fifth when Gray doubled to right off Lane Oesterling to score Alex McCutcheon. Wilson was plunked by a pitch followed by a walk to Keisheimer to load the bases. Eli Knust followed with a single to right to score two more before Jared Jones relieved Oesterling and worked out of the inning.
Despite a two-run homer by Ullom in the fifth and a solo shot by Tanksley in the sixth, the Foresters took game three 9-6.
“We’ve been challenged, but that’s a staple of this program,” Reel said. “When you come to play baseball here, you’re not gotta play a bunch of wannabes; you’re gonna play a bunch of teams that are gonna show up and come out swinging. If you want to be the best, you’ve got to spar with the best.”
The finale saw the Grenadiers turn to lefty ace Hunter Kloke to salvage the final game against Foresters right-hander Joey Butz. The two starters each went held the opposition scoreless through the first two innings before the Foresters jumped on Kloke in the third. Ginder reached on a two-out walk before Ian McCutcheon brought him home on an RBI double. Wilson followed with an RBI single to right-center to give the Foresters an early 2-o advantage.
The Grenadiers answered at the bottom of the fourth when Romero drew a leadoff walk and advanced to second on a Jake Scott single. Austin Wise followed with a single to score Romero and advanced to third on a throwing error, but Butz worked out of further trouble by forcing Farmer to fly out to left.
The Foresters once again struck with two outs in the fifth after Lichty singled and stole second, allowing him to score on a Wilson single. Wilson then reached third on a bobble by Woeste before Gray singled to center, ending the night for Kloke. Connor Fries relieved the lefty, getting out of trouble by making Owen Young pop out to first.
Freshman southpaw Gavin Knust replaced Fries to start the sixth, finishing off the final two innings for the Grenadier pitching staff. Despite the Grenadiers’ situation, Knust was happy to get some time on the mound in the series, going up against a Foresters lineup that included his older brother Eli.
“My older brother’s actually [Huntington’s] starting catcher, so I knew quite a few of their guys,” Knust said. “It’s a good learning curve because I knew all their best hitters before I even went on the mound.”
The Grenadiers only managed one baserunner against Foresters’ reliever Max Meisner over the next two frames when Ullom reached first on a dropped third strike.
While down 4-1, the Grenadiers weren’t ready to give in just yet, as Tyler Mills led off the bottom of the seventh with a double, followed by Farmer wearing a pitch to his back to advance to first. Woeste flew out to right, the ball being deep enough to allow Mills to move to third. Monahan followed with an RBI double while Tanksley brought Farmer home on a sacrifice fly. The Grenadiers could not bring home the tying run as Romero flew out to left, giving the Foresters a 4-3 victory to complete the four-game sweep.
“We just had a tough time piecing things together,” Monahan said. “We would get guys on base, and we didn’t execute.”
The Grenadiers suffered from a rare lack of timely hitting for the series, leaving 32 runners on base across four games despite slightly outhitting the Foresters 33-30. The Grenadiers were also suffering on the defensive end, committing six errors, including four in game two. The losses drop the Grenadiers to 5-10 on the year, losing six in a row and seven of their past nine games.
Reel noted that the Grenadiers’ recent travel schedule, including the previous weekend’s Cajun Collision and a stop at Cumberland University earlier in the week, may have been a factor in the Grenadiers’ performance in the series.
“Coming off the Cajun Collision, I think there was mental fatigue,” Reel said. “We spent probably 25 hours on a charter bus, traveling through five or six states; it was exhausting. These guys can handle it because they’re in the prime of their athletic careers. The key is that hopefully, they’re learning from this and will respond.”
The Grenadiers look to bounce back on Wednesday, March 3, when they travel to Lindsey Wilson for a single contest. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.