SHEPHERDSTOWN— At first, Shepherd couldn’t find a clutch hit, leaving seven runners stranded in the first three innings.
Much later, Nathan Minnich lined a grand slam home run and Michael Lott drilled a solo homer close behind him. Shepherd had a five-run lead. But relief pitcher Justin Byrd could retire only one batter and allowed four earned runs before Andrew Gallant quelled the Indiana comeback with his 2.2 shutout innings . . . and the Rams prevailed, 7-6, in a non-conference game played on Saturday at sun-bathed Fairfax Field.
A theme began to take hold after the Rams stranded two runners in both the first and second innings and then left the bases loaded in the third.
Shepherd starting pitcher Brandon Coffey was in shutout control until the fourth when the Crimson Hawks broke through with a run . . . but left the bases loaded to waste some of the seven batters that faced Coffey. Three more Indiana hits soaked Coffey for a second run in the fifth and he would be replaced — trailing 2-1 — by Brian Martin to open the Indiana sixth.
Martin got through unscathed in his one inning. And then Shepherd tried again while still facing starter Craig Hibell.
Ryan Messina led the Shepherd sixth with a ringing double to the covered wall in left. Travis Sluger drew a walk. After pinch-hitter Jake Cook fanned, Aaron Scoville lined a hit-and-run single over second to plate Messina. Messina’s run made it a 2-2 game.
Chad Murphy wrangled a key walk off reliever Ben Weimer, facing his fourth man after replacing Hibell.
The bases were loaded. And it was time for Minnich’s fourth trip to the plate. Minnich rammed an 0-1 pitch from the Indiana right-hander on a straight line toward a vulnerable wall of Shaw Hall beyond the fence in right.
Minnich’s grand slam made it 6-2, Shepherd. Lott soon followed with a solo shot that proved pivotal when Indiana chased Shepherd reliever Justin Byrd with a four-run rally in the seventh.
Gallant replaced Byrd and quieted Indiana. He retired eight of the nine batters he saw, fanning five of them along the fastball route to thoroughly silence the Crimson Hawk offense. Gallant was protecting a one-run lead in all three of the innings he pitched.
Martin received credit for the pitching win and Gallant recorded his first save of the season . . . a season where Shepherd moved its record to 6-5.
Minnich had provided a grand slam. Lott contributed a key homer. Gallant had more of a fastball than Indiana could catch up to this early in the season.