By Nicholas Huenefeld/Owens Sports Information
Toledo, OH---Strong pitching by Chris Ward and Andrew Joseph helped the Express baseball team pick up two big conference wins today, but the Express lost their reigning All-Region XII sophomore infielder Joe Sickler to injury in the process.
Game 1: Owens 4 Lakeland 3 (9 innings)
Ward started for the Express and cruised for much of the game. After allowing a two-run first inning on three hits and a walk, he retired 16 of the next 18 batters he faced and produced an individual team-high 12 strikeouts.
Down 2-0, the Express cut their deficit to one in the bottom of the first when Manis walked, stole second, and later scored on RBI groundout by Ryan Hotmer.
In the third, back-to-back-to-back singles by Ryan Horvath, Myles Debol and Hotmer tied the game at two. Then, from the fourth through the sixth innings, Ward retired all nine batters he faced, while striking out seven of them.
In the seventh, Lakeland put runners on first and third with one out off Ward, but a 6-4-3 double play ended the threat.
In the eighth, Ward allowed one run, but averted major damage. After allowing two singles and a hit batter, he induced a 6-3 double play and a 4-3 groundout.
Then, in the bottom half, Hotmer led off with a single to center field. Sickler then sacrificed Michael Louis, who pinch ran for Hotmer, to second. Two batters later, Heatherly singled through the left side to score Louis and tie the game.
After Sean Koerber relieved Ward in the ninth and retired the Lakeland offense in order, Manis led off the bottom half with a bunt single, advanced all the way to third on a sacrifice bunt by Horvath, and scored on a wild pitch to give the Express a 4-3 win.
Ward's final line included eight innings, nine hits, three runs, one walk, one hit batter and 12 strikeouts. He allowed only one extra base hit. Koerber (1-2) was credited with the win.
Hotmer went 2-for-4 with two RBIs, while Nick Collins was 2-for-3 with a triple for the Express. Manis finished 1-for-4 with two runs and two stolen bases.
Matt Palko started for Lakeland and, like Ward, also went the first eight innings. Mason Wisner relieved him to begin the ninth and took the loss.
Game 2: Owens 6 Lakeland 3
Joseph pitched six solid innings, while Hotmer had another big game offensively as the Express won 6-3.
Lakeland took a 1-0 lead off Joseph in the third inning on an unearned run.
Then, in the fourth, with a runner on first and one out, Lakeland's Mason Wisner grounded a ball to Manis at short, who threw to Sickler at second to start a double play. However, Lakeland's Wil Shortreed slid hard into second and injured Sickler while he was attempting the throw to first. The umpire ruled Wisner out on the play due to interference from Shortreed.
With one of their sophomore leaders down, the Express offense kicked into gear in the bottom half of the fourth. With two outs, Debol walked and Hotmer singled to left center. Louis, who entered for Sickler, and Collins then produced back-to-back RBI singles to give the Express a 2-1 lead.
After Joseph held Lakeland scoreless in the top half of the fifth, the Express added four more in the bottom half.
Austin Legate singled to lead off. After Trevor Ozenbaugh came in as a courtesy runner, James Moore Jr. walked to put runners on first and second. Nate Manis then singled on a two-strike bunt down the third base line to load the bases.
Following a passed ball that advanced all three runners and gave the Express a 4-2 lead, Horvath hit a sacrifice fly to center to scored Moore and make it 5-2. Then, with Debol at bat, Manis stole third. On the play at third, tempers flared due to a close play. Three players, including Manis and Shortreed were ejected.
Ozenbaugh then came in as a pinch runner for Manis. After Debol was hit by a pitch, Hotmer lined a two-run double to deep left center to score both runners and give the Express a 6-1 lead.
In the sixth, Joseph struck out the first two batters. The third batter hit a fly ball to left that was misplayed into a triple. Two more hits followed, and the Express lead was cut to three.
In the seventh, Dane Davis relieved Joseph to begin the inning. After a walk and a throwing error, Clayton Ruch relieved Davis on the mound. Ruch induced a 4-3 double play prior to striking out the final batter to end the game.
Joseph (1-3) was credited with the win. He allowed five hits, three runs (two earned) and one walk while striking out six over six innings. Ruch picked up his third save of the season.
John Gora, who entered the game 3-0 with a 0.72 ERA, went the distance for Lakeland and picked up his first loss. Despite retiring the first 11 batters of the game, his final line included six hits, six runs and four walks while striking out six over six innings.
Hotmer finished 2-for-3 with a run and two RBIs to lead the Express offense. He was the only player with two hits, while Manis, Louis, Collins and Legate also picked up one hit each.
Owens moves to 7-18 overall and 3-3 in the OCCAC with the doubleheader sweep, while Lakeland falls to 11-11 overall and 3-3 in the OCCAC.
Hotmer finished the day 4-for-7 with a run and four RBIs. He is now leading the team with a .355 average. Manis is now hitting .303 and is second on the team in average among regulars.
The severity of Sickler's injury is unknown at this time.
Both teams are scheduled to play another doubleheader tomorrow at 1 p.m. at Owens.