Lipscomb baseball’s bats started to come out of winter hibernation as the Bisons swept the Illinois State Redbirds at Dugan Field in a weekend series marked by great weather.
Lipscomb batted .326 in the series. The Bisons are currently batting .236 as a team, next-to-last in the ASUN.
The heart of the order fueled the Bisons’ 10-8 win in the back-and-forth first game of Saturday’s doubleheader. Fifth, sixth and seventh hitters Jake Perry, Blake Thomas and Von Watson drove in nine runs on six hits, including home runs from Perry and Watson.
Starting pitcher Brady Puckett was ambushed for three runs in the top of the first inning by the Redbirds, but the Bisons took the lead in the bottom half of the opening frame thanks to a two-out rally punctuated by Perry’s three-run bomb and an RBI single from Watson.
Watson added a three-run shot of his own in the bottom of the seventh to tie his career-high of four runs batted in. It was Watson’s first homer of the season.
“It was so good to see him come out and swing the bat well,” coach Jeff Forehand said on Saturday. “We really need him to use this game to get going at the plate. He plays a big part in what we are trying to do.”
Puckett gave up two more runs in the sixth and was replaced to start the seventh inning by lefty John Pryor, who earned the win after the Bisons executed another two-out rally in the bottom of the seventh.
Illinois State loaded the bases and scored a run in the ninth against Dalton Curtis, the Bisons’ fourth pitcher of the day. With the score sitting at 10-6, senior Denton Norman replaced Curtis with the tying run at the plate and allowed two of Curtis’ runners to score but closed the door on the Redbirds.
Only 46 minutes later, Bisons’ ace Jeffrey Passantino hurled the first pitch of game two, a pitcher’s duel that Lipscomb took 3-1. Passantino threw seven scoreless innings, not allowing a baserunner in five of them and striking out ten men.
The Bisons scored in the fourth and sixth innings on RBI singles from designated hitter Jake Perry and third baseman Zeke Dodson.
Illinois State greeted Dallas Gibson, Passantino’s replacement in the top of the eighth, with a leadoff pinch-hit double to right field. That runner later scored on a sacrifice fly and proved to be the Redbirds’ only run of the game.
Bison second baseman Lee Solomon single-handedly added an insurance run in the bottom part of the eighth inning. Solomon singled with one out, stole second and third base, then scored on Cade Sorrells’ fielder’s choice ground ball.
Solomon went three-for-four at the plate in game two and leads the Bisons in runs, doubles and stolen bases. But game two was all Passantino’s, who earned his first win of the season.
“I thought this was my best start of the season,” Passantino said. “Everything was working the way I wanted it to, and it’s always fun to get some strikeouts.”
Norman closed out game two of the doubleheader with another save, his second of the day and third of the season.
Sunday’s series finale was another above-average offensive affair for the Bisons. After Dayton Tripp retired the Redbirds in order to start the game, the Bison bats started working quickly, scoring two runs in the first frame.
Star leadoff man Michael Gigliotti singled on the third pitch from Illinois State starter Brady Huffman, then stole second and third, later scoring on a sacrifice fly by Dodson. Gigliotti reached base in four of five at-bats and crossed the plate twice.
Gigliotti is batting just .238 on the season but has reached base safely in every game this season and currently holds a seven-game hitting streak.
Redbirds cleanup hitter Noah Sadler doubled to lead off the second, and Illinois State tied the game in the inning. But it was all Bisons the rest of the way.
Lipscomb right fielder Allan Hooker’s solo shot kicked off the home half of the seventh inning, in which the Bisons broke the game open.
Right-hander Kyle Kemp pitched four perfect innings of relief to earn the win. Ryan Stevens made his fourth appearance to finish the sweep of the Redbirds, giving up a single earned run in a game that was not close.
The three-game sweep comes after a four-game losing skid for Lipscomb. Illinois State travels to in-state opponent University of Illinois on March 21.
The Bisons play at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on March 21 at 6 p.m.
Photo courtesy of Lipscomb Athletics
Additional reporting by Lipscomb Athletics