William and Mary went into the second inning of Tuesday’s game already down 4-0. For a team that has struggled with coming back from deficits and has only won one of 19 games where its opponent scored first, it felt as if the game were already over. But the moment designated hitter senior Hunter Smith’s bat came around to connect with a pitch in the bottom of the second, he knew it was a good hit.
“It was a good swing,” Smith said. “I was just trying not to do too much, just let the ball go.”
Smith is no stranger to home runs. He had already put up a team-high six on the season going into Tuesday’s matchup. According to Smith, his favorite pitch to hit is a fastball down the middle, and this one would serve him perfectly. With that swing, the team’s designated hitter cracked a three-run homer over the backboards of Plumeri Park in a play that would eventually be the difference-maker as the Tribe (15-23) beat Norfolk State (12-21) handily, 10-4.
The Spartans were the first to open scoring Tuesday evening when the top of the second deteriorated into a fiasco for the Tribe, one that involved five hits, a stolen base, a wild pitch and four runs. Down four runs early, the College was certainly not in the ideal place for a team trying to break a three-game losing streak.
But the College rallied immediately in the bottom of the inning, getting on base with a single from its first batter, junior infielder Zach Pearson. A walk and a balk got senior outfielder Craig McLane to second and Zach Pearson to third, where sophomore infielder Patrick Ryan scored him on a fly out, cutting the visitors’ lead to 4-1.
Sophomore outfielder Brandon Raquet then hit a triple to score McLane before he scored on a wild pitch, getting the College within one at 4-3.
“We struggled this past weekend to score guys in scoring position and I think we did a much better job of that today.” —SMITH
“We struggled this past weekend to score guys in scoring position and I think we did a much better job of that today,” Smith said. “We’d get guys [on] second and third, less than two outs, and today we scored them.”
With two outs on the board, it looked like the College might have to complete the comeback attempt in another inning. But Smith hammered his home run across the park before the inning was over, batting in three runs and taking the lead for the College at 6-4.
“I thought it was nice to come right back after they got to four runs,” head coach Brian Murphy said. “I felt like having the ability to come back and score and respond to their big inning was important for us.”
The College’s pitchers held Norfolk State off the board for the rest of the game. After freshman pitcher Justin Pearson weathered the rough second frame, graduate Andrew Burnick, sophomore Nick Butts, senior Robert White and freshman Jacob Haney allowed only one hit in the final seven innings to close out the match. Butts recorded his third win of the season, bringing his record to 3-1, while Haney picked up his first save.
“We have a lot of guys that are throwing the ball well, it’s just a matter of putting them in the right situations,” Murphy said. “That’s more on us than them, making sure we use them at the right times.”
The College added four more runs in the last seven innings to pad its lead. Raquet hit a double to score Ryan in the bottom of the fifth before McLane hit an RBI single and then scored in the bottom of the seventh. He would end the game with two runs and one hit.
“It was certainly McLane’s best game of the season so far, which is nice,” Murphy said.
That, in addition to one final run from Zach Pearson in the bottom of the seventh, brought the final score to 10-4.
“Those tack-on runs were big. In close games, the type of games we’ve been playing in the conference, you really need those.” —COACH MURPHY
“We got some two-out hits tonight, which was nice,” Murphy said. “The home run from Hunter with two outs, McKay’s [single in the seventh] was with two outs to drive in a run, so those tack-on runs were big. In close games, the type of games we’ve been playing in the conference, you really need those.”
The Tribe has a lot of experience in those close conference games. It suffered two one-run losses this past weekend in a series sweep by Colonial Athletic Association opponent James Madison.
“After we had a really tough weekend… the biggest thing today was just trying to play 100%, with a lot of effort,” Smith said. “And I think we did that really well.”
Building on yesterday’s home win will be important for the College this weekend. Although its overall record improves to 15-23 with the victory, its conference record stands at 3-9 after last weekend’s sweep. This weekend, the team travels to Boston to play another crucial CAA series in enemy territory against a highly-ranked Northeastern team.
“It’s nice to have some guys who have been struggling a little bit get some hits,” Murphy said. “It makes them feel a little better about themselves heading into the weekend.”