After 20 innings of baseball, day slowly turned to night and UNG head coach Tom Cantrell, who’s coached over 1,000 games for UNG over 19 seasons, was—for once—tired of watching baseball.
With two outs, a runner 90 feet away from clinching victory and relief for the Nighthawks, and a quick timeout for both coaches to establish a plan, coach Cantrell’s plan was simple.
“When they called timeout, I told Chase [Sudduth] I said, ‘You better get a hit because I’m tired and I want to go home, it’s been a long day,’” Cantrell said.
Sudduth came up to the plate and moments later followed orders, slapping a hit through the infield and delivering his coach and team a hard-fought walk-off victory over Peach Belt Conference opponent UNC Pembroke by a score of 5-4. The win capped off a doubleheader sweep by the Nighthawks, who won game one hours earlier, 7-4.
“Honestly, I just wanted to do it for our team because I feel like we deserved it,” Sudduth said. “And I love all these guys, so I was trying to just end it because I knew everybody was tired and luckily it happened.”
Possibly the most tired of all was senior pitcher Jack Fleming, who came on in relief of starter Derrick Pickvet in the fifth inning, but got more than he bargained for and ended up pitching the final seven innings of the game.
“You never think you’ll throw seven innings in relief, but no matter what you’re asked to do, that’s just what you have to do and I’ve been here long enough to know you kind of have to suck it up regardless of how you feel,” Fleming said. I was ready to go today and kind of knew that in game two I’d be first out of the pen so I mean I kind of had my mindset right anyway, but yeah it shocked me as much as it shocked anybody else.”
The outing was easily the longest of his collegiate career, with his previous long being a 3.2 inning appearance earlier this month against Young Harris.
“I haven’t thrown seven innings since we played seven inning games, so it’s definitely been a while,” Fleming said.
Fleming came out especially strong in extra innings, striking out the top two hitters in UNC Pembroke’s lineup to start the tenth inning before adding a career best fifth strikeout in the 11th.
“A lot of guys will get in a groove when they’re in there for a certain amount of time. Obviously I haven’t been in there long enough to find that groove, but you get to the point where it doesn’t really matter who you’re throwing against, it’s just you and the catcher. And having the best catcher in the world makes it a lot easier. You kind of put blinders on the hitter and you really just focus on throwing strikes and getting after every single guy.”
Cantrell echoed Fleming’s praise for UNG’s catcher, Andres Perez, who caught every pitch of the doubleheader on Saturday.
“It’s always tough to come out and play two nine inning games, which you never really want to do,” Cantrell said. “[I] can’t say enough about what Andres did catching. He caught 20 innings today after catching 9 last night.”
Most importantly for Cantrell, his team was able to get the win, coming up big when it mattered most.
“I just told them we had to win two today and we did, we found a way to win two games today,” Cantrell said. “We had two great senior moments, [Steven] Tomlinson getting the big two out double and getting the game tied and then of course what Jack Fleming did throwing seven innings, [he] really bowed up and had another senior moment and gave us a chance to win.”
The Nighthawks next chance to win is tonight at Bob Stein Stadium in the first of two games against the University of West Florida.