Crimson Hawks split home-opening series against Cal U

Hunter Bigler (sophomore, exercise science) looks for a pitch to hit during the Crimson Hawks' home opener against California University of Pennsylvania April 8. (Ashley Meredith/ The Penn)

The Crimson Hawks baseball team took Owen Dougherty Field in Indiana Tuesday to play out the tail end of a four-game series for their home opener.

“It was fun; it was such a different atmosphere,” head coach Jeff Ditch said. “No bus trip, no getting up early in the morning. It was really nice to settle into our home routine and play here.”

Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division rival California University of Pennsylvania claimed one of the two late afternoon doubleheaders to finish out the series that started Sunday.

The Crimson Hawks are now 12-15 overall and 6-8 in the division with 18 games left on their schedule.

IUP won the first matchup 1-0 in a game that consisted of five hits and lasted barely over an hour.

Austin Mock (junior, exercise science) scored the lone run for the Crimson Hawks in the bottom of the seventh inning, advancing home on a wild pitch thrown by Cal U starting pitcher Cory Craig. Mock initially reached base on a deep fly ball that was dropped by Cal U center fielder Ben Carson.

“Obviously you want to win in any way possible, but you feel bad when you win that way,” Ditch said. “It’s always nice to walk off with a base hit, but we’ll take them any way we can get them.”

Co-captain Jared Weed (senior, marketing) threw seven shutout innings and allowed just two hits for the Crimson Hawks in that game, improving his personal pitching record to 2-3 this year.

“He won this game for us single-handedly,” Ditch said. “This was his best performance in all four of his years here.”

The lack of score influenced Weed’s performance, he said.

“My fastball was moving a lot today – not sure if the wind had anything to do with that,” Weed said. “But because there was no score, it kept me in the game and kept me focused.”

The Crimson Hawks lost the second game 5-3, as they couldn’t quite climb out of an early hole dug by pitcher Kyle Zambanini (senior, pre-physical therapy), who has fallen to a team-worst 1-5 record on the mound this season.

The Vulcans pounded the southpaw Zamabanini for four runs on four hits in the first two innings – one of which was a line-drive, two-run home run by Cal U’s Mick Fennell that he pulled directly down the left-field line.

Fennell also earned the victory on the mound in this game, pitching all seven innings and allowing just four hits for the Vulcans.

“Just like Weed single-handedly won the first game for us, Fennell single-handedly won the second game for them,” Ditch said. “He’s a good player. He gets it done.”

As a team, the Crimson Hawks recorded just seven hits and posted a .159 batting average in the two games.

This has been the story all year for the Crimson Hawks, who’ve posted the 15th-worst batting average (.247) in the entire PSAC in 2014, ranking them second to last.

They’ll try to turn things around at 12 p.m. and 2 p.m. Friday as they visit the University of Pittsburgh-Johnstown to play the first half of a four-game series that’ll be completed at 1 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. Saturday at home.

IUP, Pitt-Johnstown and Cal U are in a three-way tie for fourth place in the PSAC West standings at the halfway point of inner-conference play.

IUP power hitter Ryan Uhl (junior, finance) will likely be returning to the lineup against Pitt-Johnstown after missing a majority of the Cal U series with what Ditch called a “high ankle sprain.” He’ll try to help the Crimson Hawks make their push for the playoffs.