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March 1, 2014

Barton, Bloomsburg split baseball doubleheader

by Benny Benton

WILSON, N.C. – Barton College juniors Mitchell Wheeler and Snooter Merryman went a combined 7-for-7 to provide offensive support for the five-hit pitching of junior Kyle Rufer as the Bulldogs downed Bloomsburg University, 4-1, in the opening game of a non-conference baseball doubleheader Saturday at Nixon Field.

The Huskies came back to claim the nightcap, 6-2, behind a complete-game six-hitter from sophomore Matt Jaskolka, who struck out nine in the seven-inning contest.

The split left Barton 5-9 on the season, while Bloomsburg moved to 4-3.

The Bulldogs produced a season-high 13 hits in the opener, and did so against Bloomsburg senior ace Casey Cooperman, who posted a 2.36 ERA in 10 starts last year and a complete-game win over perennial power Kutztown in his first game of 2014.

Wheeler went 3-for-3, scored twice and drove in a run for Barton, while Merryman went 4-for-4 with an RBI. The Bulldogs also received two hits from Nathan Boykin and two RBI from JT Bunce.

Merryman also tossed a scoreless ninth from the mound to collect his third save of the season in as many chances.

He sealed the victory for Rufer (2-1), who scattered his five hits allowed over seven innings, walking one and striking out one. Mike Brienza worked a scoreless eighth in setting up Merryman for the save in the ninth.

Barton led throughout, beginning with a single run in the second inning. The Bulldogs loaded the bases with one out after Wheeler was hit by a pitch, Merryman singled to left and Boykin singled down the left field line. Bunce was also hit by a pitch, forcing in Wheeler with the game's first run, but Bloomsburg avoided further damage by getting a double-play ball to end the inning.

The Bulldogs increased their lead to 2-0 in the fourth inning when Wheeler and Merryman singled to lead off the frame, and Bunce delivered a one-out RBI single up the middle.

Barton doubled the advantage to 4-0 in the fifth inning by producing five hits off Cooperman, including four in a row by Andrew Webster, Dillon Rudio, Wheeler and Merryman, the latter two driving in runs.

Rufer, who gave up a single to Eric Frain to lead off the game, didn't allow another base runner until two outs in the fifth inning. Singles by Brad Smith and Nick Mazza, followed by a double steal, put the two Huskies in scoring position, and a walk to Brady West loaded the bases. However, Rufer got a grounder to short to preserve the shutout.

The Huskies finally got on the board in the seventh, when Brian Almand doubled to the fence in left field and later scored on Mazza's sacrifice fly.  However, the Barton bullpen would allow just one base runner in the final two innings.

Mazza had two of Bloomsburg's six hits in the contest, both doubles. Cooperman (1-1) gave up all 13 hits from the mound over seven innings, walking one and striking out five.

Game two was quite different for both teams, as it was Bloomsburg who produced 12 hits while getting a sparkling pitching effort.

The Huskies spotted Jaskolka (2-0) a 1-0 lead in the first when Mazza doubled to left-center with one out, moved to third on Joey Casselberry's single and scored on a sacrifice fly by Corey Baiada.

Bloomsburg added two more runs off Barton starter Duncan Everett (0-2) in the second inning on a one-out single up the middle by Frain followed by consecutive RBI doubles from Mazza and Casselberry.

The Huskies chased Everett in the third with their fourth run of the afternoon on an RBI single by Tim Ravel that plated Damin Muth, who had singled with one out. Everett gave up seven hits, walked one and struck out one in his three innings of work.

Barton cut the deficit to 4-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Wheeler singled up the middle and Webster tripled over the head of Mazza in right field. However, Bloomsburg struck right back in the top of the fifth, getting RBI doubles from Muth and Ravel off Bulldog reliever Brandon Warren.

Jaskolka, who in one stretch between the second and fourth innings struck out seven of the nine batters he faced, finally surrendered a second run in the bottom of the seventh and final inning when Chris Davis singled, Merryman walked and Blake Spangenberg doubled to center.

However, Merryman tried to score all the way from first base on Spangenberg's hit and was called out on a controversial bang-bang play at the plate, effectively ending any big rally for the Bulldogs.

Muth paced the Huskies with three hits, while Mazza, Casselberry and Ravel each added a pair. Barton's six hits came from six different players.

The two teams will play the rubber game in the series Sunday at noon.