SPARTANBURG, S.C. – Zeke Dodson is no stranger when it comes to big at-bats in the final inning, especially when those games involve the USC Upstate Spartans.
With two Bisons in scoring position and the game tied at three in the top of the ninth frame, the sophomore third baseman fouled off three straight pitches before smashing a single back up the middle to bring home the go-ahead run in a 5-3 victory for Lipscomb at Harley Park on Saturday in ASUN Conference action.
“I am really proud of the way Zeke battled in the ninth to come up with the game-winning hit,” Lipscomb skipper Jeff Forehand said. “He always seems to be at the plate when the biggest moments arise. He got down in the count today and then hit a laser up the middle. That was big at-bat for us.”
It was the third time in five career games against Upstate that Dodson delivered the game-winning base hit. Last April as a freshman, Dodson posted back-to-back walk-off singles on consecutive days in Nashville to cap a series victory against the Spartans.
Dodson’s game-winner was set up after junior center fielder Michael Gigliotti reached base following a throwing error from Upstate’s shortstop pulled the first baseman off the bag. Lee Solomon moved Gigliotti into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt before Cade Sorrells drew a seven-pitch walk.
Gigliotti and Sorrells set the stage for Dodson after successfully moving up on a double steal. Designated hitter Jake Perry scratched across the final run on a squibbler that rolled under the pitcher’s outstretched hand.
Lipscomb’s Jeffrey Passantino pitched his fifth-straight quality start, but did not factor into the decision. The junior hurler tossed seven innings and was clinging to a two-run lead before giving up a game-tying 2-run home run to the Spartans’ J.J. Shimko in the bottom of the sixth.
“I thought Jeffrey pitched pretty well,” Forehand said. “He had the guy 0-2 in the sixth and the batter hits a two-run homer to tie it. You can’t fault Jeff for that.
“But I liked the way he bounced back to finish the inning and then come back to get out of a little jam in the seventh.”
Passantino was lifted after surrendering three runs on six base hits. He struck out a season-low two batters and issued his only walk of the day to the leadoff batter in the seventh. That was his first free pass in 29.1 innings across four outings.
With Lipscomb (16-10, 2-0 ASUN) trailing 1-0 in the top of the fourth and Dodson and Perry on the corners, senior second baseman Hunter Hanks blasted a ball to deep left center for a 2-RBI triple to give the Bisons a 2-1 lead.
The very next inning the Bisons extended their lead to 3-1 when Sorrells singled into center field for his second base knock of the afternoon. Solomon, who reached on a walk and then stole second, came around to score on the hit.
Senior reliever Denton Norman entered in relief and tossed the final 1.1 innings. He earned the win and moved to 3-2 on the season after allowing just one Spartan to reach first on a leadoff walk in the ninth.
“Today was another good win for us,” Forehand said. “Upstate has a good team and they really grinded it out today. I just thought we made more plays down the stretch.”
AROUND THE HORN:
- Lipscomb now leads the all-time series with Upstate 16-10 and have won eight of the last nine meetings. In the last seven meetings at Harley Park, the Bisons are 6-1 and have outscored the Spartans 70-22.
- The Bisons are 2-0 to start conference play for the first time since 2014 when they took the first two at home against Jacksonville.
- Sorrells, who was the only Bison to not get a base hit in Friday’s opener, was one of only two Lipscomb hitters to collect multiple hits in the win. He is tied with Dodson for the team’s lead in multi-hit games at eight.
- Perry picked up two hits in five at-bats. He also added to his team-leading RBI total, now at 25.
- With two RBI on Saturday, Hanks now has three multi-RBI games on the year.
- Dodson extended his team-best hitting streak to 10 games. He and Solomon also extended their team high 11-game on-base streaks.
- Tevin Symonette got the start in left field for his first action since March 22 at Middle Tennessee. He went 0-for-2 with two strikeouts.
- Hanks’ triple was his second of the season and the seventh of his four-year career.
- Dodson has an RBI in seven of his last nine contests.
- The no-decision effort was the sixth of the season in seven starts for Passantino.
- John Pryor was the first Bison out of the pen following Passantino’s lifting. He tossed two-thirds of a stanza, walking two and striking out one.
Lipscomb will go for its second sweep in three weeks on Sunday when the Bisons and Spartans take the diamond in the series finale at Harley Park at Noon. Dayton Tripp (2-1, 5.88 ERA) will toe the rubber for Lipscomb and will be matching up with Blake Whitney (3-2, 4.54 ERA).
“Any time you are in a position to get a sweep in the conference, especially on opening weekend, you have to take advantage of it,” Forehand said. “I don’t want to take anything away from Upstate because they could have easily laid down after that game last night, but they really fought today.
“We have to be ready tomorrow because they don’t want to be swept on their home field.”