Winning streak expires before sunset

The FAMU baseball team’s offense displayed some bipolar tendencies in Saturday’s doubleheader 2002 opener against Mercer.

In their first at-bats of the season, the Rattlers pounced on the Bears, scoring six runs in the bottom of the first inning and cruising to a 13-4 opening game victory. FAMU’s hot bats cooled off in the nightcap, as Bears starter Brian Jones and closer Jason Stone combined on a three-hitter and Mercer rolled 6-1.

“I’m happy with it, but we should have won both,” said FAMU coach Joe Durant. “It’s been a long time since we won our opening game.”

Senior catcher Chris Batsch attributed the drop-off in offensive production between games to the relative inexperience of FAMU’s squad.

“The new guys, they don’t understand Division One and the intensity needed to win back-to-back games,” Batsch said.

Mercer helped the Rattlers race out to a big lead in the twin bill opener, committing three errors in a sloppy first inning.

FAMU piled on in the fifth. Bears pitcher Byron Kiefer, on in relief for starter James Morrison, walked the first two batters he faced. Mercer coach Barry Myers promptly lifted Kiefer in favor of Matt Sims. Sims walked Miguel Quinones, and shortstop Scott Holmes followed with a three-run double down the right field line.

Sims plunked Donnie Von Dolteren in the leg, and Myers made another pitching change. Second baseman Nick Parker, 5’8, 160 lbs. and not known for his power, rudely greeted Mercer’s third pitcher of the inning, Mike Paolantonio, ripping his third pitch over the wall in left for a 12-0 lead.

“It was a 2-0 pitch, fastball down in. I was sitting on fastball,” Parker said.

Making their debuts for FAMU were two starting pitchers, Mike Sills and Mike Connell. Tallahassee native Sills spent two years at Central Florida Community College before arriving at FAMU, while Connell transferred from North Florida Community College.

In game one, Sills kept the Bears off balance from the get-go, striking out the side in the first inning. The left-hander relied on his fastball and changeup for the most part, aggressively working the inner portion of the plate.

“I didn’t find my curveball until the fifth inning, so I didn’t throw it much,” Sills said.

Sills carried a two-hit shutout into the sixth. Bears second baseman Patrick Murphy smacked a leadoff double into the left field corner. Following a strikeout, Mercer third baseman Jarrod Lynch reached on shortstop Scott Holmes’ throwing error.

Mike Appalucci subsequently dashed Sills’ shutout hopes, lashing a first-pitch fastball over the left field fence for a three-run homer. Three batters later, Durant pulled Sills, inserting reliever Harvell Harris to mop up.

“I started to get a little tired,” Sills said.

Game one catcher Donnie Von Dolteren had nothing but praise for Sills.

“We were lacking experience. Sills comes in and looks like he has more experience than the rest of our guys,” Von Dolteren said. “He’s got a live arm. He’s always around the plate. He’s going to be great.”

FAMU fell behind early in the second game. In the top of the first, with runners on first and second and two outs, Connell seemed to get out of the inning, inducing Appalucci to hit a routine fly ball to right. Running toward the line, right fielder Montrey Coleman fell down. The ball dropped, and Mercer was posted to a 2-0 lead.

The Rattlers managed only one hit through four innings against Jones. FAMU scored its only run in the bottom of the fifth, as Morris Scott walked, stole second and scored on Frank Scott’s single through the hole into left field.

Its lead cut to 3-1, Mercer responded in the top of the sixth. With one out and runners on first and second, Bears third baseman Luke Jackson put the game out of reach, smoking Connell’s first pitch deep to right for a three-run blast.

“I was looking for a fastball down the middle. He had been throwing strikes all game,’ Jackson said.

Jones struck out six and walked two in his six innings of work. Mercer improved to 3-1 on the season with the win.

The two teams played Sunday after the FAMUAN went to press.