NEWBERRY – All season long, Lenoir-Rhyne’s Thomas St. Clair has seized the headlines in the South Atlantic Conference, winning four SAC Pitcher of the Week awards and dominating the bulk of the league’s statistical categories.
But on Friday night at the Smith Road Complex, Zack Kelly proved he’s capable of delivering jaw-dropping performances as well.
Newberry’s stellar senior outdueled his Lenoir-Rhyne counterpart in the teams’ South Atlantic Conference series opener, a 3-0 Wolves’ win, throwing 124 pitches in a dominant complete-game, six-hit, shutout victory to earn his seventh win of the season.
Kelly lowered his ERA from 3.75 to 3.32 with the dominant performance that included nine strikeouts and a single walk. He pitched out of trouble multiple times throughout the contest; Lenoir-Rhyne (21-24, 6-16 SAC) leadoff hitters were 5-for-9 against the right-hander.
But Kelly did his best work when the pressure mounted, limiting the Bears to 0-for-16 with runners on base, including an 0-for-7 mark with runners in scoring position, and did not give up a hit in 11 at-bats by left-handed hitters. The Daleville, Virginia native retired nine Bears by fly ball and induced nine groundouts in addition to his nine punchouts.
He also helped his own cause defensively, wheeling and firing to third after fielding a bunt with no outs and a runner on second in a scoreless game in the third inning to render a Bears’ threat futile. And when he released a wild pickoff throw in the sixth while protecting a 1-0 lead that allowed a runner to reach third, the veteran was unfazed.
He calmly delivered a called third strike for the first out. Robert Kosch intimidated the runner back to the bag two pitches later on a ground ball that appeared deep enough to tie the game with the infield playing at regular depth. Another groundout stranded one of six Bears on the basepaths and preserved the tenuous advantage.
Three slick double plays by the Wolves’ (29-19, 14-8 SAC) defense, including one fraught with controversy in the seventh inning, were instrumental in allowing Kelly to pitch deep into the game and keep from elevating his pitch count.
While Kelly painted his masterpiece, the Newberry offense kept St. Clair from doing what he does best: rack up gaudy strikeout numbers. The senior came into the contest with 110 strikeouts on the season, good for second among pitchers in all three NCAA divisions in 2017 and 28 ahead of Kelly for tops in the league.
But St. Clair’s fifth-inning punchout was his only one of the evening as the Wolves plotted to neutralize his best weapon. When he was lifted after 101 pitches one out into the eighth inning, the usually-dominant St. Clair had three times as many walks as strikeouts and the fewest K’s in any game of his career in which he pitched more than 1.1 innings.
With St. Clair gone, the Wolves made quick work of the Lenoir-Rhyne bullpen. Daymon Totherow, standing at first after lacing a full-count single through the right side that ultimately chased St. Clair from the game, bolted for second as a pitch to Jeff Sneed settled outside the strike zone.
He slid into the bag safely for his second stolen base of the game and 21st of the season, then scrambled for third as the throw sailed into center field. But Totherow never slowed his gait and the center fielder was unable to field the ball cleanly, giving the Bears two errors on the play and Totherow just enough time to scamper home to stretch the lead to 2-0.
Sneed completed a walk moments later before good fortune again struck for the Wolves. Pinch hitter Ben Herring lifted a high fly ball into medium depth in right field, but all three fielders converging on its trajectory lost the ball in the lights. Sneed touched the plate without a throw to set the stage for Kelly to close out the complete-game victory.
The Wolves had moved ahead 1-0 on perfectly executed fundamental baseball in the fourth inning. Trejon Smith led off with a single into left center. Sneed showed bunt, then pulled the bat back to hit a chopper through the left side to advance Smith to third on the hit-and-run. Tommy Passerello lifted a fly ball to left center on the next pitch for a sacrifice fly and Newberry’s first run of the contest.
The teams will complete the regular season with a pair of games on Saturday at the Smith Road Complex. Senior Day festivities are scheduled for approximately 12:40 p.m. with first pitch of the twinbill set for 1:00 p.m.