After scoring its first four runs via the long ball, the Mississippi University for Women baseball team used something with a bit less distance to win on Saturday.
Tanner Evans laid down a perfect suicide squeeze bunt as Blaize Gann scampered home from third in the bottom of the seventh to lift the Owls to a 5-4 win over Southeastern Baptist in the second game of a doubleheader at Heritage Academy’s Trip Carson Field in Columbus.
Evans said it was the first time he squeezed home the winning run in a game.
“Coach has had us practice that a lot, and it worked out when we needed it the most,” said the junior shortstop, who walked and scored in the sixth and doubled home a run in the opener. “All these guys know how to bunt. Coach wants us to execute that, especially late in games.
“If they’re not going to throw strikes, we’re not going to bunt balls. He threw me a strike, and I was able to get it down.”
Owls coach Scott Mularz said that, current baseball trends to the contrary, the bunt is an important part of The W’s offense.
“That’s one of the things that we work very hard on, and guys are starting to take pride in it,” the first-year Owls coach said. “They see how it can really open up our game. It’s kind of the old-school way, which is kind of what I like, but as athletic as we are and as much as we can run, I just enjoy it.”
Gann got a terrific jump on the play and was just steps from the plate when Evans pushed the ball between the mound and first base. It could not have been diagrammed any better, and the Chargers never had a chance.
The winning rally started when SBC reliever Lane Booth walked Thomas Tucker. A pitching change brought in Tyler McKnight, who promptly walked Gann on four pitches, leading to another pitching change, and Matthew Dimmick had a chance to get out of it, getting an infield out and getting two strikes on Joel Estabrook. But after fouling off a pitch, Estabrook walked on a 3-2 count to load the bases and set the stage for Evans.
The Owls were in position to win in the seventh thanks to a two-run home run by catcher Avery Benson in the sixth. The junior catcher ripped a line drive over the fence in right-center, although he wasn’t sure it was out at first.
“I’ve hit a few home runs on this field, so I kind of know when it’s leaving, but that one was low enough I didn’t think it was going,” Benson said.
Evans, who had walked and moved to second on a passed ball, had a slightly better view.
“It looked good off the bat,” he said. “ I got to second, so I was just looking for a base hit to score on, and the ball just kept carrying. It was hit really well.”
“He had me out front on two changeups, so I just kind of tried to put the barrel on it, and it just happened to be a good one,” said Benson, who leads The W with three home runs.
Although the Owls only had six hits, two others were long balls. After the Chargers had taken a 2-0 lead in the second, Gann and Blake Estabrook hit back-to-back two-out home runs in the third to tie the game. Estabrook also homered in the opener, going back to back with Dane Bevell.
“With this team, we really don’t expect that,” Mularz said. “We’ve got some guys who can, but that typically doesn’t happen. We’re more of a small-ball team.”
Joel Estabrook got the win for the Owls. He got in some trouble in the fifth, but otherwise turned in a sterling performance, retiring the Chargers in order three times in his other four innings of relief. Overall, he allowed two runs on two hits, striking out four and walking three.
“His emotions kind of got the best of him there a little bit in the fifth, and he didn’t get some calls he probably should have, but he did a really good job of getting back on the mound and getting back into it,” Mularz said. “Joel’s been doing that for us all year.”
The Owls (7-12) scored four runs with two outs in the bottom of the sixth for a 6-4 win in the opener, snapping a five-game losing streak.
Bret Linton walked, and Xavier Harrison came in to pinch-run. After a sacrifice and a ground out, Thomas Tucker singled home Harrison to knot the game at 3-3. Gann walked, and Blake Estabrook followed with a double down the line in left, scoring Tucker with the go-ahead run and sending Gann to third.
A throwing error on a ball put in play by Joel Estabrook scored Gann and Blake Estabrook before a pickoff on the bases ended the inning.
Tyler Temple allowed a solo home run in the top of the seventh before closing the game for his first save. Kirby Ross (2-3) struck out six over six innings to earn the win. Thomas Tucker and Baker Watson each had two hits, with Tucker scoring twice.
“This past month, month and a half, they’ve played really, really hard,” Mularz said of his team. “We’ve cleaned up some things defensively, cut down on strikeouts and got back to our style of play. I couldn’t ask anything more of these guys.”
The Owls will not play another home game until April 12, when Millsaps College will travel to Columbus for a 5 p.m. game at Heritage Academy.