Rattlers win 2 of 3 to start season

Photo courtesy: FAMU Athletics

Three-hundred and sixty-four days ago, the Panthers of Eastern Illinois University baseball team rolled into Tallahassee and completed a three-game sweep of the Florida A&M to open the 2023 season for both programs.

The Rattlers returned the favor on Sunday, winning their first weekend series of the 2024 season against those same Panthers.

Phenomenal pitching in the series’ first two games powered the Rattlers’ success over the weekend.

Junior right-hander Caleb Granger set the tone on Friday, going six innings and allowing only two hits while striking out four. The Rattlers avoided a late-inning comeback by E. Illinois to give Granger and the Rattlers their first win.

There was offensive production up and down the lineup as four different Rattlers recorded RBIs, including Jakoby Stanley, who hit the Rattlers’ first home run this season.

The Rattlers’ pitching prowess continued in the opener of Sunday’s doubleheader. Three Rattlers threw a combined shutout to help seal the series win over the Panthers.

Grad transfer Tre Simmons led the way, throwing five innings while striking out six. At the plate, Stanley continued his offensive production with a two-run RBI double in the second inning to start the scoring off for the Rattlers and give them a lead they would maintain for the rest of the game.

“Tre Simmons looked like the Tre that pitched in the SWAC tournament last year,” FAMU coach Jamey Shouppe said.

Shouppe lauded Simmons’ consistency throughout the spring and believes it correlated to his success during his outing.

In the second game of the doubleheader, early runs proved costly for FAMU. After pulling out to a 2-0 lead in the first inning following an E. Illinois error, the Panthers erased the lead in the second. E. Illinois crushed three straight home runs off of junior right-hander Trevor Hanselman to blow the game open and take a 5-2 lead.

The Rattlers scored two runs in the bottom half of the inning with a two-run double by graduate second baseman Joseph Pierini to cut the lead to one. The Panthers and Rattlers pushed runs across in the fifth and sixth inning, respectively, before the Rattlers tied the game in the bottom of the ninth with a triple by junior outfielder Janmikell Bastardo and an RBI fielder’s choice by graduate first baseman Sebastian Greico.

E. Illinois scored the go-ahead run in the tenth to spoil the Rattlers’ chance at a series sweep and earn their first win.

Shouppe said that he had a decent ball club following the contest and admitted that baseball can sometimes be a weird sport.

“We had what we thought was our best arm on the hill today,” Shouppe said when speaking of Hanselman.

Shouppe said that Hanselman had been dealing with arm issues recently, which might’ve contributed to his unusual performance on Sunday.

Despite falling short in the final game, Shouppe believed that his players performed well overall over the weekend and needed to continue to “grind and keep getting better” to position themselves to do well in conference play and earn a chance to play in the NCAA tournament come June.

Despite this, Shouppe said he and his staff cannot let his players get complacent.

“We gotta keep pushing them to get better,” Shouppe said. “All you want from a coaching standpoint is to have a chance. I feel like we have a chance to repeat as SWAC champions, and it’s a lot of work between and making it back.”

Shouppe mentioned that he was not surprised at his team’s overall performance over the weekend. He is optimistic that his returning offensive weapons, Bastardo, Greico, and senior Ty Jackson, will soon get going offensively.

“We played this whole series against a good team without what was our best player last year when it comes to just true baseball player,” Shouppe said when speaking of Jackson, who is coming off of a tightrope surgery in the fall. “He only hit .370 and almost a .500 on-base percentage in the leadoff spot for us.”

Shouppe also praised redshirt sophomore catcher Broedy Popper’s performance. For the first two games of the series, Poppell replaced all-SWAC selection Ty Hanchey, who signed a deal with the San Francisco Giants following the end of 2023.

“He [Poppell] was probably a good surprise for us,” Shouppe said. “I think he’s going to help us offensively as well, and he caught behind the plate and handled our pitchers well.”

FAMU will host Troy, another 2023 NCAA regional team, on Tuesday. Troy recorded wins over its first four games of the season against Southern Indiana University Edwardsville for a 3-1 overall record. The Trojans are among the many talented mid-major programs in a loaded Sun Belt Conference.

The game between FAMU and Troy will begin at 4 p.m.