Chisenhall Impressive In Pitching Debut
The Southern Conference is nothing compared to the SEC, right? Try this on for size; South Carolina, a legitimate national powerhouse, was 0 - 2 against Southern Conference opponents this season entering into Tuesday night's match up against Appalachian State.
Unlike The Citadel and College of Charleston, Appalachian State is a weak Southern Conference team at best – a dangerous team with nothing to lose. Add to this the element of mystery - a true freshman making his pitching debut - and the game posed a threat. Gamecock super-freshman, Lonnie Chisenhall, made his USC pitching debut in front of some 3,600 cautiously curious fans.
Already having proven his worth at the plate, the pitching mound presented unchartered waters. Clocked in the low nineties as a regular in his high school rotation, Chisenhall has also developed a deceptive curve – one that would bail him out of a few tight spots throughout the night.
With a once blank canvas now filled with cautious excitement, Baseball America's top rated freshman in 2007 applied his first brush strokes efficiently and effectively. As the Gamecocks sprinted over the damp red clay of the infield, Chisenhall took the mound with the same confident swagger he's displayed at the plate.
A first-pitch fastball for a strike followed by a ball in the dirt preceded his first college out – a groundball to second base.
Another groundball run down by Reese Havens rolled far enough into the hole for an infield single. After a fielder's choice and a stolen base, a long fly ball to centerfield completed the inning. With his first career inning behind him, Chisenhall jogged off the mound with confidence still intact.
Staying ahead in the count, an occasional rising fastball would bring catcher Phil Disher to an upright position. Intended or not, the erratic fastballs seemingly worked in his favor as the Mountaineers were left guessing.
Chris Baker must have guessed right to lead off the third inning as he crushed a home run off the left field foul pole. A perfect opportunity for an ill-timed melt-down never materialized as Chisenhall followed up the long ball with his first strikeout – a nasty breaking ball that had fans in the first row buckling at the knees.
Down by a run, Andrew Crisp tied the score quickly with his first extra base hit of the season, a long home run to left center.
After four effective innings with no walks and two strikeouts, Chisenhall began to tire. Allowing his first free pass in the fifth inning, the stage was set for shortstop Jason Altenhof. His single to right drove home David Towernicky to reclaim the lead.
When Coach Tanner reached the top step of the dugout the crowd began a thunderous standing ovation that got louder as Chisenhall got closer to the dugout. 4 2/3 innings pitched to his credit, he allowed 4 hits, 2 ER, 2 BB, and 2 K.
Ray Tanner didn't appear surprised when he described Chisenhall's first outing in a monotonous sentence, "I thought he looked good."
Asked if he'd be called to take the hill in conference play, Tanner looked almost surprised at the question, "Oh, I don't think we'll have a choice. He'll have to."
ASU senior, Jonathan Reeder, whose ERA entering the game was two points higher than the number on the back of Chisenhall's jersey (8) looked sharp for two innings. It was a patient Gamecock offense though that soon turned a close game into an offensive display by the bottom half of the fifth.
The second of Reese Havens career-high four hits was followed by two more singles before Justin Smoak connected for his first career grand slam and fourth of the young Gamecock season.
Coach Tanner cited an "age brings discipline" theory when explaining Smoak's slow start. "Ideally age brings discipline. Sometimes, though, with discipline, comes a natural un-aggressiveness. Smoak has become more patient – that's a good thing. He just needs to be aggressive too. It's a happy medium he's starting to get the hang of."
As if Lonnie Chisenhall hadn't put his stamp on the game already, his pinch hit double to the gap immediately following Smoak's bomb ended the night for Reeder. Suddenly, the beginning of a 20 hit attack was in high gear – the most hits the Gamecocks have collected this season.
Still no outs, Trent Kline pinch hit for Phil Disher and welcomed new ASU pitcher Adam Mills to the game with his second home run of the season. After James Darnell reached second base on an error by right fielder Jason Rook, Reese Havens doubled into the left field corner. His second hit of the inning drove in the seventh run of the inning.
Will Atwood, the victim of three unearned runs thanks to three Gamecock errors, did a good job covering up the miscues that the offense could not. A play after Harley Lail misplayed a line drive in left field, Havens launched a wild throw to first base. His first error of the season accounted for two more ASU runs. Atwood then caught Chris Baker leaning off first to force a run down, thus ending the inning and any threat of a comeback.
Four more runs in an eighth inning highlighted by three consecutive doubles drove the final nails into the ASU coffin.
When asked about his big night at the plate and the mental effects of an anemic batting average, Reese Havens smiled as he contemplated, "I was more aggressive tonight. I don't worry about the average. I'm just glad it happened. Hopefully it will get things rolling just before conference play. I just want to help the team."
The story on the night though was Chisenhall, who claimed to have "no jitters" leading up to the game.
Asked if he wants to get back to the mound in the future, he nodded quickly, "Yeah, I want to be back up there. It's instinct, as a pitcher, to want to get back up there."
The Gamecocks look to run their record to 15 - 2 Wednesday with one more throw down at The Sarge before beginning conference play. They'll send another unknown commodity in Columbia Blowfish veteran and JUCO transfer Sean Wideberg to the hill this time. The right hander has thrown one full inning on the season striking out three and walking two.
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