FARNHAM PARK, Bucks. – Brad Jones ripped re-formed Durham University Baseball’s first home run in a four-run first, and strong relief work by Sam Ross and Jones delivered an 8-6 victory over the University of East Anglia Blue Sox at the Spring National University Baseball Championship.
On a bitterly cold day for baseball, Durham’s top team staked starting pitcher Gabriel Fidler to a sizeable lead in its first time to the plate. Amané Sobue ripped a double to the wall in left to start things off, and came home on the dinger by Jones. After an error, three straight hits plated two runs, with the RBIs coming from the bats of Marcus Helland and Laurence Hodgkins.
Fidler looked jittery in the bottom of the frame, walking the first batter and hitting the next, before giving up a run on a base-hit to left. A walk loaded the bases, and it appeared that Durham might get out without more damage as a groundball to Helland at first saw the out recorded at home. Fidler failed to right the ship, however, walking the next batter to force in a run and giving up a RBI single to make it 4-3.
Durham managed to get out of the inning with the lead, though, as its hurler buckled down and got a 3-2 double play to end the frame. Helland once more scooped up the ball by the bag, stepped on first, and fired home to Sobue for his second assist of the inning.
The Blue Sox’ starter, Nathan Lee, settled in to start the second. Lee, who showed off pinpoint control, went 1-2-3 on Durham’s bats, and Fidler once more took the rubber. One of five postgraduates to start the game, Fidler continued to look unnerved despite getting a quick bouncer to Helland to start the frame.
Back to the top of the lineup, UEA worked a five-pitch walk before Fidler hit Fopp, the two-hole hitter, to put two on. A double steal put the Blue Sox in motion, but an errant throw caused the lead runner to come home and tie the game. Lee then ripped a line drive to centre, but Robin Wallich got a beat on it and recorded the second out. After another walk, Fidler got out of the jam with another roller to Helland to leave the score at 4-4.
Both sides went three-up, three-down in the third, with new Durham pitcher Sam Ross looking very comfortable. The righty started his relief with a strikeout looking, and matched a goose egg with Lee in the fourth. The game sailed to the fifth before either side scored, and it was the visitors who broke out the bats to erase the deadlock.
Brad Bentz led off the frame with a bunt single that caught East Anglia by surprise, and moved to third on a Sobue ball that the centre-fielder let bounce off his glove. With two runners in scoring position, Durham smelled a rally, and it was Ben Turner who delivered, stroking a one-base knock to left to drive in Bentz and Sobue.
Turner swiped second and was joined on the basepaths by Jones, who walked, before T.J. Garske laced a double to the wall in left-centre to plate the lead runner. Helland loaded the bases after his pop fly was dropped by the second baseman, and captain Will Zucker attempted a squeeze play. Zucker, who had come on as a sub for Hodgkins, dropped the bunt, but Jones was ruled out on a very close play at the plate.
Andrew Poole would give Durham its final run with a groundball to the pitcher to score Garske, and Ross took the bump to finish the game. It was not to be, as the Blue Sox finally solved the Durham reliever, getting the leadoff hitter on base on a throwing error. A stolen base and a single cut the lead to 8-5, with a second run scoring soon after on a wild pitch. After back-to-back walks, Zucker pulled Ross, and brought in the fireballer Jones.
Jones was just what the doctor ordered, despite entering with two runners aboard. The first batter worked the count to 2-2 before going down on a heater, while the next Blue Sox player looked at three strikes. With the tying run on first, Jones kept firing bullets and finished with another K looking to earn the save and deliver Durham a win in its first-ever national tournament.
Ross earned the victory with two solid innings, giving up a pair of runs, one earned, on two hits and two walks. He whiffed three. Fidler last two frames, allowing three earned runs on two hits and four base on balls. He did not strike out a batter.
Lee was the hard luck loser, tossing five innings and retiring 10 batters in-a-row at one point. He gave up eight safeties and two walks, striking out five and giving up all eight runs, one unearned.
Durham scattered its eight hits between 10 players. Turner and Jones were the only two with multiple RBIs. Sobue and Garske each crossed the plate twice.
Durham will look to keep its run alive against Southampton in a 3 p.m. (GMT) start in the National Championships.