"We're really happy with our arms," Coach John Cohen said, not at all surprisingly.
Then again even the shutout starter Saturday wasn't entirely satisfied with how his first stint of the sophomore season went. Sure, Stratton blanked the Cardinals, the defending Southland Conference kings and a NCAA participant last spring. Yet the righthander was thinking more of issues than innings after picking up the victory, earned on a 6.0 outing with six hits, a walk, and ten strikeouts.
"Something I definitely need to work on is pitch efficiency, I need to throw a lot less pitches," said Stratton. "But I was able to use all my pitches." More to the point he had to, such as in the top of the fourth when Lamar loaded the bases with one out as Stratton missed the zone. Instead of just trying to blow away batters under pressure he mixed and moved and left everyone unscored with a pair of strikeouts.
"Just back against the wall," Stratton shrugged. "I credit my catcher, Wes Thigpen, he's a great ‘coach' and gave me the right pitches to throw."
By stranding all hands Stratton also preserved a 1-0 Bulldog lead. Lamar starter Blake Ford was impressive himself for the first two scoreless frames with a late-running fastball and sharp location. But in the bottom of the third SS Jonathan Ogden came back from a down-count to walk, and get to second safely as 2B Sam Frost grounded to the right side.
That gave top-of-order batter DH Nick Vickerson the RBI opportunity and he delivered, looping the first pitch deep and fair to leftfield for the go-ahead double. The only one State would eventually need, too, though they got some fifth-frame insurance; again on a two-out double. Frost walked his way on and this time Vickerson got a free pass as well. So with two down it was 3B Jarrod Parks' turn to deliver and he did with a two-bagger to rightfield plating Frost.
That was sufficient cushion for Stratton. "His velocity was very good at 90-91 and he threw a couple of 94s, not that that's the most important thing in the world," Cohen said. "But it tells you his arm is fresh. He wasn't as economic as you want, and strikeouts take a bunch of pitches to record." Not that Stratton minded setting a career high for fannings. "He really wanted to pitch more and that's a good sign," Cohen said.
Instead reliever Caleb Reed got to pitch half as many innings as the starter and recorded half as many strikeouts including two each in the seventh and eighth frames. But the ninth wasn't without drama as a pair of singles had two Cardinals on; both would be replaced by pinch runners if the key hit came.
It didn't. Reed got Cameron Campbell swinging and grounded-out the nine-hole hitter Ted Zentek to earn a save. Ford (0-1) took the loss on two runs, four hits, three walks and two strikeouts. For State both Parks and Frost had two base hits.
Game-two with Akron looked a lot like Friday's first meeting as State jumped on Zips pitching immediately. Vickerson led off with a single and RF Brent Brownlee doubled for a pair of Dogs in scoring spots. Parks netted the initial RBI with a grounder and freshman 1B Daryl Norris drove the next in with a single.
Again the Dogs had all the offense needed already but that didn't stop them from pouring it on in the second inning with four more scores. With two on and an out, Vickerson punched out a base hit to score LF C.T. Bradford; before Brownlee's fly ball to rightfield was deep enough for rookie Taylor Stark to come home from third base via sacrifice. Parks got his second RBI of the contest with a single and Norris roped a double for the 6-0 margin.
Meanwhile starter Chad Girodo was making his own strong start with four scoreless innings. He didn't allow a baserunner until the fourth when the top of the Akron order came back up, with a one-out double from Jason Corzine and a following single from Drew Turocy as the lead runner held at third.
Girodo steaded, coaxing a line-out to shortstop and a fly ball. "I got in a little bit of a bind and my teammates picked me up," Girodo said. "And we're putting runs on the board. Getting two right off the bat, it's easy for a pitcher to go out there and coast."
Still the shutout streak had to end in the fifth with consecutive leadoff singles and a one-out grounder putting Zips on corners. A walk filled the bags and another base on balls, issued to Corzine, got Akron on the board. Freshman lefthander Luis Pollorena entered to ground-out Turocy and end the brief rally.
Pollorena stayed in 3.0 more scoreless innings with a strikeout and no hits of any sort. "Luis is an energy guy that kind of feeds off our other players," Cohen said. "He's going to have a lot of innings for us with that lefthanded breaking ball. And he controls the running game very well and you can't bunt on him." Not that Arkon had much chance to do so.
And the Bulldog offense had more left in them with four insurance scores in the sixth. With one out State loaded the paths for Norris, whose drive was misplayed by the centerfielder into a three-base hit and three RBI. "Yeah, I'll take the triple, I'm not much for a home run inside the park!" he admitted. Norris got to come home anyway as CF Jaron Shepherd outran a bouncer to the first baseman for an infield single.
Hunter Renfroe joined the list of freshman to get on the field this first weekend by pitching a scoreless ninth, though he did walk a pair on. Akron starter Zach Yike (0-1) took the loss, charged with 13 hits and 10 runs in his 5.1 innings with no strikeouts. Norris provided half of State's scoring with five RBI on three hits, while C Cody Freeman and Brownlee also had three safeties and Vickerson crossed the plate three times.
A crowd of 4,717 watched the second game, many fresh from cheering the basketball Bulldogs in their victory over Ole Miss. It was worth hanging around for as the new-look Diamond Dogs show why hopes are greatly improved in 2011.
"I love it, I hope we keep getting stronger every game," said Girodo. "Our offense is really keeping us into the game."
State wraps up the opening weekend with a 2:30 first pitch against Lamar. Junior lefthander Tim Statz is to start for the Bulldogs, and Cohen said look for freshman righty Evan Mitchell to enter in mid-relief early in the afternoon as well.
Akron and Lamar also have a 10:00 game.