MONMOUTH — St. Dom’s plays thinking man’s baseball, to begin with.
Facing a fellow MVC unbeaten in a Monmouth club loaded with potential but lacking experience in big games, the Saints ratcheted up the pressure to a level even they will admit was a tad ridiculous.
Swinging early in counts, attempting double steals in odd situations and gambling on the extra base when it didn’t always make sense, St. Dom’s was willing to sacrifice outs in the name of daring Monmouth to make mistakes.
The Mustangs didn’t exactly crack, but they left just enough on the table to watch the Saints strut off with a 6-0 victory.
“We wanted to make them feel like we were the team,” St. Dom‘s coach Bob Blackman said. “We knew that they were young. We wanted to put the ball in play and make them try to make some plays.”
St. Dom’s (5-0) scored three runs in the second inning — two of them unearned — and added three more in the seventh.
That was ample support for left-hander Kurt Johnson, who spun a three-hitter. Johnson, one of only two seniors in the Saints’ lineup, struck out five and walked two.
“All my pitches were working,“ Johnson said. “My curve ball was working early. My fast ball was working later once they adjusted to the curve ball. That’s what you’ve got to do as a pitcher. You’ve just got to keep them on their toes.”
The latter philosophy didn’t change when the Saints had the bats in their hands and their cleats in the dirt.
St. Dom’s ran into a staggering eight outs on the basepaths, including two at the plate.
But the Saints also stole four bases and consistently put the ball in play against Monmouth freshman southpaw Kyle Fletcher. St. Dom’s banged out a dozen hits. Johnson, Alex Parker, Joe Bryant and Drew Gosselin each had two.
“This was a good test for both teams,” Blackman said. “I think it brought them back to reality a little bit, and it also gave our kids an opportunity to see a decent game.”
Johnson reached base on a dropped fly ball to trigger the second-inning rally.
Jimmy Theriault followed with an RBI double to deep center field. Later in the inning, Gosselin stroked an RBI single and eventually scored on a throwing error.
Monmouth (5-1) cut down Theriault at the plate after Will Desmarais got caught in a would-be rundown between first and second on a nice pickoff move by Fletcher,
“We executed pretty well. Picked off a few guys. Got a few guys in rundowns. Made some plays at the plate,“ Monmouth coach Eric Palleschi said. “We kind of took them out of their game a little bit. We just made a couple mistakes here and there.”
D.J. McHugh, Billy Cummings and Josh Fournier notched the hits for Monmouth.
Fournier, who belted a one-out double in the fifth, was the only runner to reach third base, moving up on a Cummings groundout.
Johnson coaxed Mike Lent into a fly ball to right, preserving the shutout.
“Coming up, a couple bad pitches or a couple hits and you might as well have folded it up then and there,” Blackman said of Johnson. “Now he’s bearing down and not afraid to go after guys. He’s matured.”
St. Dom’s strung together two hits against Fletcher and two more against reliever Jeremy Ashlock in the seventh.
Bryant turned a misplayed fly ball into an RBI double. Johnson pushed home another run with a sharp single.
The teams had the first half of their home-and-home series rained out Saturday in Auburn. Each is scheduled to play three more games this week.
“It’ll be important to see how we bounce back on Wednesday (at Winthrop),” Palleschi said. “The first loss of the year is always kind of tough to rebound from.”