‘Diamondhawks’ split Opening Day doubleheader

Luke+Gesell+%2812%29+pitches+during+UNCW%27s+season+opener+against+St.+Joseph+on+Feb.+15%2C+2019+at+Brooks+Field.
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‘Diamondhawks’ split Opening Day doubleheader

Luke Gesell (12) pitches during UNCW's season opener against St. Joseph on Feb. 15, 2019 at Brooks Field.

Luke Gesell (12) pitches during UNCW's season opener against St. Joseph on Feb. 15, 2019 at Brooks Field.

Brandon Sans/The Seahawk

Luke Gesell (12) pitches during UNCW's season opener against St. Joseph on Feb. 15, 2019 at Brooks Field.

Brandon Sans/The Seahawk

Brandon Sans/The Seahawk

Luke Gesell (12) pitches during UNCW's season opener against St. Joseph on Feb. 15, 2019 at Brooks Field.

Brian Carpenter, Staff Writer

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UNC Wilmington baseball kicked off its 2019 season with an Opening Day doubleheader against Saint Joseph’s and Virginia Military Institute at Brooks Field on Friday. The Seahawks earned a split with a 4-2 loss to SJU before beating VMI 5-2.

Game One (Saint Joseph’s 4, UNCW 2)

Junior Luke Gesell took the mound for UNCW for his sixth career start and his first since May 27, 2017, against Delaware in the CAA Tournament. Gesell turned in a career-high five innings for the Seahawks over 71 pitches while giving up three unearned runs and striking out two Saint Joseph’s batters.

“I thought he was pretty good,” said head coach Mark Scalf on Gesell’s start. “He missed a location on three or four pitches and paid for it unfortunately and then we misplayed some baseballs behind him. If we play clean defensively, Luke may not give up a run in his five innings.”

In this game, the Seahawks committed four errors including two from second baseman Brooks Baldwin. The second error for Baldwin proved costly as Saint Joseph’s James McConnon hit an RBI double in the top of the fifth inning to push the Hawks lead to 3-0. Saint Joseph’s would add another run in the top of the ninth to make it a 4-0 game as the Seahawks had three more outs to try and even the game.

Sophomore Doug Angeli came off of the bench in the bottom of the ninth and hit a single to put runners on first and second with one man out as Greg Jones stepped in. After Jones walked, the bases were loaded for UNCW. Following a pop out to the shortstop by Chris Thorburn, Cole Weiss stepped in with two outs. Weiss hit a two-RBI single to make it a 4-2 game but that was all the Seahawks could manage.

Game Two (UNCW 5, VMI 2)

In Game Two, redshirt freshman Brody Lawson took the mound for UNCW, making the first start of his college career. Although he struck out seven VMI batters, he also allowed seven hits and two earned runs over 68 pitches and three two thirds innings. Fortunately for UNCW, the Seahawk bullpen proved why they are one of the strongest parts of this team.

Senior Justin Walke, junior Henry Ryan, and redshirt senior Blake Morgan combined to throw 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball, picking up another six strikeouts over just four VMI hits. Adding in redshirt junior Breydan Gorham and redshirt junior Justin Crump’s numbers in Game One, and the Seahawks bullpen managed to pitch 9.3 innings while just giving up one earned run in the day.

“Everyone has a lot of confidence,” said Walke on the bullpen. “Every guy is ready to get the ball and do their job and pass it off to the next guy.”

In terms of the offense, the Seahawks struggled to string a lot of great at-bats throughout the majority of both games and remained hitless through five innings against VMI. The Seahawks were able to get their first hit from freshman Adam Smith and get a run across in the sixth inning but still trailed 2-1.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Seahawks started putting better at-bats together and would load the bases with no men out in the inning. Pinch hitter Noah Liles and Jones each had singles and an error from VMI’s Michael Diadato allowed Chris Thorburn to reach base safely.

“I think it was just slowing the game,” said Kep Brown on what led to the switch of the Seahawks stringing better at-bats together towards the end of the second game. “I think in the first game and even early in the second game, we had some good at-bats, but they were spaced so far out that we couldn’t really get anything going.”

After a Weiss walk tied the game at two, Brown stepped into the box with a chance to give the Seahawks the lead. Brown hit a hard ground ball in the hole between first and second into right field which allowed Liles and Jones to score to give UNCW a 4-2 lead and their first lead of 2019. Center fielder Noah Bridges added an RBI single for insurance to give UNCW their first win of the young season.

Stat of the Day: UNCW’s Opening Day loss to Saint Joseph’s snapped a 10 game winning streak on Opening Day for the Seahawks. Brown also extended his hitting streak from last year of five games to seven following the two games on Friday.

Quote of the Day: “The man has over 900 wins and hopefully we can give him 35 or 40 more after this year. I think that is the main goal and just send him out on a good note.” -First Baseman Kep Brown on what it meant getting a win in Mark Scalf’s last Opening Day as the UNCW baseball head coach.