First-pitch hits keep Belmont starter from getting settled

Saturday, June 4, 2011 at 12:13am

Belmont ace Matt Hamann didn’t expect Vanderbilt to swing at so many first pitches. Neither did the Commodores.

But Vanderbilt jumped all over Hamann early and often as Belmont fell 10-0 in an NCAA Regional opener at Hawkins Field.

The Commodores didn’t allow Hamann to get real deep into many counts as they swung at 13 first pitches from the right-hander. Seven went for hits, which accounted for half of the total Hamann allowed in 5.1 innings.

“Whoever they had scouting for them, [he] told them they should [swing at the first pitch] and it worked out real well for them I guess,” Hamann said. “It is just a testament to how good they really are. I felt like I was executing pitches the way I wanted to, in the counts I wanted to, in the spots I wanted to, too. They just did a really good job of hitting it.”

Added Belmont coach Dave Jarvis: “If he gets ahead of you, he becomes a much more devastating pitcher.”

Entering Friday, Belmont had won seven of the eight games Hamann started. The redshirt junior came in with a 9-1 record and a 2.22 ERA. He pitched six innings — four plus of no-hit ball — against Stetson last week in a opening round win at the Atlantic Sun Conference Tournament.

He struggled right away against Vanderbilt, though. He allowed three consecutive hits — all on first pitches — in the first inning. Curt Casali capped that stretch with a two-run double.

“He was staying around the zone pretty much the whole game,” Vanderbilt’s Anthony Gomez said. “So guys were seeing the ball up and putting good swings on it. I guess we just stayed with that approach from there.”

Hamann settled in a little bit after the first inning, retiring eight of the next nine batters heading into the fourth inning.

That’s where things really got ugly for Hamann and the Bruins (36-25). He surrendered three consecutive singles to start the inning and then committed two fielding errors — both on sacrifice bunts. He skipped a throw to first base and later failed to get the ball out of his glove on an attempt to throw out a runner at home plate. Trying to make a play, he threw to first but plunked Vanderbilt’s Anthony Gomez in the back of the head. He also threw two wild pitches as the Commodores (48-10) scored six runs in the frame.

Hamann allowed 10 runs — seven earned — and struck out just two. He threw 93 pitches — 60 for strikes.

“They are a real tough team once they get the ball rolling,” Hamann said. “I couldn’t get the ball out on that push bunt. I couldn’t get the guy out at the plate. I got a little tired too. I tried to work through the inning. It is hard to really explain, tough hitters to get out.”

Ray pitches Troy to win: Troy pitcher Tyler Ray settled in and settled down, controlling the Oklahoma State bats in a 9-2 victory in the tournament's first game.

Ray hadn’t lost a decision all season but through three innings he allowed six hits as the Trojans trailed 2-0 heading into the fourth. From there, though, he puzzled the Cowboys.

The second-team Louisville Slugger All-American retired seven straight batters and gave up just two singles before being pulled with two outs and a seven-run lead in the eighth.

“I’m one of those guys that I don’t get off to a great start but if you let me settle down, then I can really work deep into games,” Ray said.

Ray, the Sun Belt Conference pitcher of the year, improved to 12-0 as he threw 95 pitches — 62 for strikes — in 7.2 innings. The junior right-hander struck out five and gave up one walk to lead Troy to its first NCAA Regional win in five years.

“I have been coaching a long time and he is the epitome of what a really good college pitcher is,” Oklahoma State head coach Frank Anderson said. “You separate his pitches and they are OK but when you put in the fact that he doesn’t walk people, he throws strikes, he can throw any pitch he wants to at any time for strikes and competes, it gives him a chance. We had to work for everything we got.”

• UT transfer sparks Trojans: Third baseman Tyler Hannah gave Troy extra breathing room with one swing on Friday.

With the bases loaded in the eighth inning, Hannah smacked a two-out triple over right fielder Devin Shines’ head to bring everyone home. It was his lone hit but a big one, giving Troy a five-run cushion.

“I certainly had a lot of confidence in him coming to the plate in that situation,” Troy coach Bobby Pierce said. “I was not surprised that he delivered because he has been doing it all year.”

Hannah has carried the Trojans all season, leading the team in doubles (27) and batting average (.369) en route to first team Louisville Slugger All-American honors.

Hannah, a junior, is in his first season with Troy. Hannah is a transfer from Wallace State Community College-Hanceville (Ala.). He spent one semester at the University of Tennessee before heading to Troy and Pierce, who coached Hannah’s high school coach, Darius McKay. He sat out the 2010 season before stepping right into Troy’s lineup this year.

“He is one of the best walk-on players I have ever had,” Pierce said.

• Saturday’s schedule: Belmont and No. 2 seed Oklahoma State will meet in an elimination game at 2 p.m. Chase Brookshire (5-4, 3.52 ERA) will start for the Bruins. Oklahoma State has not announced its starter. 
Troy, the third seed, will play No. 1 seed Vanderbilt at 7 p.m. on Saturday. The Trojans will throw Jimmy Hodgskin (3-6, 4.56 ERA) and the Commodores will send out Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year Grayson Garvin (12-1, 2.35 ERA).