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The afternoon started with so much promise.
After five innings of Friday afternoon’s first game of an NCAA Division II Conference Carolinas doubleheader on the Nixon Field diamond, the Barton College baseball team had vaulted to an 8-0 lead against Emmanuel (Georgia) College.
The results were mixed from there.
The Bulldogs of first-year head coach Jim Chester escaped with an 8-7 win to claim their first home conference win of the season.
But miseries that have been the signature of a rough season returned in the second game with the Lions thrashing Barton, 15-6.
In that seven-inning contest, Emmanuel senior designated hitter Daniel Gooden swatted three home runs, including, yes, two grand slams and drove in 10 runs. Gooden entered the twinbill with five homers and 18 RBIs in 2018 and departed with eight homers and 29 RBIs (including one in the first game).
In a clash of teams scrambling to stay out of the conference basement, Barton, 11-29 against all foes, ended the day in eighth place in the nine-team league with a 3-14 record, while Emmanuel, 13-20 overall, moved ahead of the Bulldogs at 4-13.
Weather permitting, the teams are scheduled to complete the three-game set with a single game at noon Saturday. But in the event of inclement weather, that game, said Chester, could be moved to Sunday at noon.
Chester admitted he was disappointed with his team’s response after winning the opener. He also finds himself attempting to avoid repeated cliches in assessing the plight of his first Barton team.
“It’s definitely a challenge,” Chester said. “It’s a young team and it continues to work hard. We will contine to try to get better. I am doing the best I can and the boys are doing they best they can.”
The Bulldogs impressed at the outset Friday.
Freshman left fielder Mason Cooper belted his fourth homer to open Barton’s scoring in the bottom of the second. Then came a seven-run eruption in the third. Junior second baseman Ricks Dearing hammered a two-run double; junior shortstop Gatlin Pate rapped an RBI double; freshman third baseman Colby Warren singled in a run; sophomore designated hitter Lane Olive laced a two-run double and sophomore catcher Noah Almond capped the uprising with an RBI single up the middle. Freshman center fielder Hunter Little and sophomore first baseman Chase Riker each singled during the uprising.
On the mound, Barton senior right-hander Trent Fennell, second nationally in Division II in strikeouts, stopped the Lions on one hit and two unearned run through six innings. He issued four walks, hit two batters with pitches and struck out 10.
The Lions scrapped back with two runs each in the sixth and seventh and one in the eighth. Barton’s lead dwindled to 8-5.
Then with one out in the ninth, Brock Baughcom, Hanon Price and Gooden singled in succession, chasing sophomore reliever Landry Moore. Junior Ryan Pifer followed Moore and failed to retire a batter. With the score 8-6, Chase Long, a junior right-hander from Hunt High, was summoned for the Bulldogs.
Three pitches later, Long owned his first collegiate save and preserved Fennell’s team-high fifth win against four losses. On the second pitch from Long, Jake Nichols connected for a sacrifice fly to left field. With two Lions on base, Emmanuel’s Stephen Skeggs, on the first pitch, fouled out to third base to end the game.
“My approach was to shut them down,” Long commented, “and do what I had to do to help us win.”
But Long and his teammates watched hopes of a doubleheader sweep steadily vanish as the Lions shelled junior right-hander Dylan Ward and two successors for four home runs and three doubles in game 2. Five Barton errors resulted in 12 unearned runs. Nine of the 10 runs charged to Ward (1-5) were unearned.
“To come out and win that first game was huge,” Long declared. “We definitely had momentum. But they put it together when they had to and we didn’t put it together.”
Gooden all but dismantled the Bulldogs with a two-run homer in the first, a grand slam in the fourth and a grand slam in the sixth on a fastball, curve ball and fast ball, respectively.
“Just absolutely God-given!” Gooden clamored of his dream afternoon. “No doubt about it. But I couldn’t have done all that with no one on base. Without anybody on base, I’m not as comfortable in the box. The wind (blowing out) definitely helped a little bit. I didn’t think that third one was going to get out — but it creeped out.”
The first grand slam was a shot that cleared the scoreboard in left field. In his final at-bat in the ninth, Gooden drew a walk.
“That was pretty hard,” he admitted. “I was trying to be really aggressive and everybody in the dugout was telling me to get that fourth one.”
Barton’s Chester applauded Gooden’s onslaught, remarking: “We threw the best we had up there at him and the best we had went out of the park.”
Added Long: “Each one of (the homers) hurt, and each one hurt a little more.”
The Lions constructed a 13-1 lead as right-handed pitcher Cooper Murphy, who entered with an 11.28 earned run average, limited the Bulldogs to one run through five innings.
At the plate, Gooden was complemented by center fielder Jacob Teston at 4 for 4 and two RBIs; catcher Philip Swindell at 3 for 5 with four runs scored and a homer, and left fielder Hanon Price at 2 for 4 with three runs scored.
Despite the lopsided outcome, a momentum killer occurred in the third inning. The Bulldogs had scored once to trim the deficit to 3-1 and had the bases loaded with one out. But a base runner was picked off second base and a strikeout ended the threat.
Barton, which matched the Lions’ 13 hits, flirted with getting back into the game with a five-run sixth — when junior right fielder Troy Maslowski, Warren, Olive, Almond, Little and Dearing all hit safely, chasing Murphy. Cooper connected for a sacrifice fly.
Leading 13-6, the Lions answered with two runs in the top of the final inning and right-handed pitcher Zach Wells retired the Bulldogs in order in the bottom of the seventh.
Then, Gooden could smile and reflect on possibly a record-setting afternoon.
“You can’t let individual success outweigh the team,” he declared. “If had lost, I would have been extremely disappointed on the ride back.”