Runs, runs, run just enough to overcome near-futile pitching

SHEPHERDSTOWN— On Sunday, after allowing an even dozen runs in losing a 12-7 decision to visiting Pitt-Johnstown in the completion of a WVIAC game suspended from Saturday, Shepherd allowed another even dozen runs in the regularly scheduled nine-inning game . . . but its hitters crashed three home runs (including Nash Hutter’s grand slam) to provide just enough fodder for a 14-12 victory that gave the Rams a two games-to-one series win over the hit-happy Mountain Cats.

Three forfeit losses had plunged Shepherd’s conference record to 17-11 from its glittering 20-8 record that had it positioned solidly in the second place in the North Division of the NCAA Division II league.

Nash Hutter, facing camera, is greeted by teammates after hitting a grand slam homer.

The forfeits stationed Shepherd in a precarious third-place niche that just could have eventually forced it out of the WVIA tournament coming soon in Johnstown, Pa.

But despite the fact that its pitchers allowed 24 runs in what amounted to a doubleheader, the Rams remained in third place with a 19-12 league mark and a 27-19 overall record.

The first two inings of the thumping the Rams’ pitchers endure in the 12-7 Sunday-opening loss were played on Saturday before a drizzle halted play.

Pitt-Johnstown led, 3-1, because Drew Westover had crashed a two-run homer.

Shepherd pitcher Andrew Gallant came back again — for six batters — on Sunday. But he couldn’t retire any of them . . . and the Mountain Cats scored another four runs to sprint ahead to a 7-1 lead.

Justin Byrd replaced Gallant and went an obstacle-filled 4.2 innings, allowing eight hits and a walk and another five runs (all earned) as his ERA advanced to 5.93 and the batting average against him by all Rams’ opponents went to .308.

Byrd’s failure to check the Mountain Cats didn’t keep Shepherd from winning even though the Rams did finally count seven runs on eight hits and four walks.

Nathan Minnich had two RBIs on sacrifice flies and Michael Lott had two doubles and an RBI.

Pitt-Johnstown landed no fewer than 15 hits against the combined arms of Gallant and Byrd. Kyle Morrow and Jeff Campbell slugged home runs. Mike Palkovitz went 4-for-4 with three runs scored and Ram-killer Drew Westover went 3-for-4 and scored three runs.

Shepherd needed a win in the nightcap to secure its place in the postseason tournament. It got the win . . . overcoming another desultory pitching performance by starter Brandon Coffey and his replacement, Trevor Appleby.

And the wild, wild win was fabricated from still another long comeback — this time from a 5-1 deficit.

Coffey left after allowing five runs on four hits (including Westover’s 400-foot homer), three walks, and two hits batsmen . . . in three lacklustre innings.

Shepherd realized three runs in its half of the third when Hutter had a two-run homer and Jake Cook scored on a wild pitch.

When the Rams scored eight times in the fourth (Hutter drilled a grand slam home run), they had been gifted with no fewer than six walks and a hit batsman in the uprising.

After four, it was Shepherd holding a still-precarious 12-5 lead.

Appleby surrendered four runs in the sixth (on five hits and a hit batsman) and the Shepherd lead was a more-precarious, 12-9.

Morrow’s next homer made it a 12-10 game.

But then Minnick found the roof of Thacher Hall with his solo homer and steady-as-a-rock Chad Murphy drove in a run to give the Rams a 14-10 cushion.

Freshman right-hander Brian Martin had replaced Appleby after Morrow’s solo homer. And Martin had scoreless innings in the seventh and eighth. His lead was at four runs when the ninth began.

He fanned Morrow with a man he had walked at first. He passed Westover on a 3-2 pitch. It was then that second baseman Murphy ranged far to his left and grabbed Palkovitz’s bid for a ground single.

With two outs — and still holding to a four-run lead — Martin saw Nathan Pope poke a two-run single to center. But with the tying run at the plate, Martin ended the final Pitt-Johnstown bid to score more than a dozen runs by getting Ebersole to ground to Minnich at first.

Hutter had driven in six runs. The eight-run inning had been enough. Shepherd was firmly in third place in the North Division. Pitt-Johnstown couldn’t sweep despite scoring 24 runs . . . and could win only once despite scoring 31 runs in the three games it plowed through against the Shepherd pitchers.

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