With a 15-4 victory over Montevallo University on Sunday, April 2 to win the three-game series, the Nighthawks maintained their lead in the Peach Belt Conference standings and regained the feelings of postseason potential after a weekend that held a devastating loss on Saturday and the program’s first ever no-hitter pitched on Friday by Steven Bower.
“It’s kind of frustrating almost that we beat them as bad as we did today when we lost yesterday, because that’s what we are capable of doing,” Michael Gouge said after Sunday’s win.
The Nighthawks made up for Saturday’s game, a 4-3 defeat where they gave up three runs in the final inning, by piling on 15 runs, including a perfect 3-for-3 day at the plate for Gouge, who also earned two walks, knocked in three runs and scored four times.
Dylan Peppers gave UNG its third quality start of the weekend, pitching seven and two-thirds shutout innings and recording seven strikeouts, while only giving up two hits.
“Pep did a good job, we pitched good [all weekend] except for the ninth inning yesterday, we had three quality starts,” said head coach Tom Cantrell. “When guys like Peppers pitch good, and [Daniel] McCrary and Bower what he did Friday you know, it makes everything a lot easier.”
The start was also Peppers’ third consecutive quality start, giving up only three earned runs over the span while striking out 20 batters.
Cantrell credited the team’s success at the plate to a new approach: hitting to the opposite field.
“The bottom line with that is we used the other side of the field,” he said. “We got a lot of base hits the other way today, we’re using the whole field. We opened it up a little bit, it was good to see.”
The idea is to swing later on the pitch, which sends the ball to the opposite side of the field. So if a right handed batter “goes the other way,” the ball travels to right field.
Gouge employed this strategy right away with a double to right field in the first inning. Following a single by Trevor Sams that would score Gouge for the game’s first run, the right-handed Michael Bell gave the Nighthawks a 3-0 lead with a home run to over the right field wall.
Another key to victory for the Nighthawks was the continued success at the plate by freshman Bill Leroy.
“Well Bill Leroy has been a little spark plug for the last couple of weeks, I’ve put him in the DH spot, and he’s done an outstanding job for us for a freshman and he’s a competitor,” Cantrell said. “We’ve been fooling with that DH spot all year and so he’s solidified that a little bit.”
In the six games since becoming the everyday designated hitter, Leroy has batted .407 with 12 RBI.
The Nighthawks went on to score at least one run in all but two innings, earning a 15-0 lead before giving up four runs in the ninth inning. The win was UNG’s 25th win of the season.
“[This win is] important,” Cantrell said. “We’re in first place, we were in first place before the day started and winning today keeps that intact. We got a very good team but the thing is we got to keep grinding it out.”