Sports Staff Writer
Men’s baseball began Big South conference play with a weekend series against USC Upstate and pre-season ranked No. 1 Campbell. After a promising start in non-conference play, the Bulldogs are 3-3 in conference after the first two weekends.
“We have had more success in our non-conference games this season and I think that has given us more confidence coming to play in the Big South,” redshirt junior first baseman and outfielder Jake Madole said.
During the first part of the season, the Bulldogs played exclusively non-conference games usually against teams who were expected to beat a smaller program like UNC Asheville.
Coming off series against the strong baseball programs of Georgia Southern and Tennessee over spring break, Asheville played USC Upstate for their first conference series. The team took two out of three games against the Spartans including a thrilling walk-off bunt to win the Saturday game 7-6.
UNCA traveled to Campbell to play a series against the Camels last weekend. The series got off to a fantastic start with the Bulldogs pitching staff not allowing a single run in the Friday night game and handing the Camels their first conference loss.
The game was led by the pitching of Jordan Carr who pitched five innings and struck out three. Senior Eric Whitecavage came in relief in the sixth inning for the Bulldogs and forced an inning-ending double play to get out of trouble and keep the shutout intact.
Whitecavage worked a 1-2-3 seventh inning and only faced four Camels in the eighth to maintain the three-run lead. Kole Harris came in to close the game for UNCA, and the junior utility player quickly retired three batters to earn his fourth save of the year.
This shutout victory was shocking based on preseason hype behind Campbell and lack of auspicious anticipation surrounding UNCA, who was expected to place last in the Big South.
UNCA was defeated 21-1 in the second game due to an aggressive response from Campbell hitters and the Bulldogs’ only run coming from a solo homerun from freshman catcher PJ Heintz.
Despite the blowout loss, the team was excited for Heintz, as this homerun was his first in his college career.
“It felt like a welcome to the league kind of moment,” Heintz said. “It’s a test of focus to come off the bench and be expected to produce for your team.”
The success for the freshmen players came again in the Sunday game as utility player Dominic Freeberger belted his first homerun of his career.
“Freshmen need to take advantage of these opportunities they are given. That is what gets them more playing time and ultimately help our team,” Head Coach Scott Friedholm said.
The Sunday game versus Campbell was close through the first half of the game but the bullpen was unable to keep the game within reach.
Junior starting pitcher Greg Gasparro went deeper into this game than any UNCA starter all season, holding the camel to one run for six innings until a base clearing triple given up by Whitecavage put Campbell on top 6-1.
The Bulldogs attempted to rally in the top of the ninth with Madole roping a two run home run to start the inning but it wasn’t enough and the game ended 6-3.
“We need to combine all phases of the game in every game,” Madole said. “We have to do better with hitting and pitching in high pressure situations and not let the moment get too big and slip away.”
This statement was eerily prophetic as Madole finished his interview. The team traveled to ETSU where Madole came up in a high pressure situation to hit a game tying double which sent the game into extra innings.
Madole is possibly the hottest hitter on the team with his two clutch extra base hits in the past few games keeping the bulldogs in games and giving energy to his teammates.
“I wasn’t trying to do to much, just look for a pitch I can drive and let the rest take care of itself,” Madole said.
Asheville was unable to beat ETSU after Madole’s hit. The game went to the 12th inning where Hunter Hoopes let up a walk-off single. UNCA used all of their pitching staff in a game that lasted nearly five hours.
Over the past few weeks the Bulldog baseball team has been working toward success in conference and despite a few blowout losses, being able to play competitively with Campbell and ETSU promises great things to come.
Asheville continues conference play with a three game series against Longwood played in Asheville at Greenwood field.