Harding opened its series against Southwestern Oklahoma State University (SWOSU) Friday, April 5 by splitting a doubleheader. The Bisons are now 22-14 overall and 13-10 in the Great American Conference.
In its most attended game of the season with the addition of a pre-game social club tailgate, the Harding University baseball team defeated SWOSU 9-2 behind senior outfielder Nolan Fertig’s four-RBI day.
Harding struggled in the first inning as SWOSU scored two runs on a single and an error. Those would be the only runs SWOSU scored for the rest of the game.
“It feels good to get rewarded for hard work and to have fun with the team,” Fertig said about his success at the plate. “That’s what’s important.”
In the bottom of the first inning, Harding began its comeback when sophomore infielder David Butterfield batted in Fertig to make the score 2-1. The Bisons took the lead in the second inning when Fertig hit a two-run home run.
Harding blew the game open in the third inning, scoring three runs to make the score 6-2. Fertig drove in his third RBI of the game on single that scored sophomore catcher Brendan Perrett.
Fertig homered for the second time in the fifth inning. With the home run, Fertig became the second Harding player to ever have two home runs and four hits in a game at Jerry Moore Field.
Harding Head Baseball Coach Patrick McGaha said the nine-run game gave the team some breathing room for the rest of the season.
“It was nice to be able to put it on cruise control and score that many runs in a conference game,” McGaha said.
The 9-2 lead remained for the rest of the game. Senior pitcher Tanner Smith pitched a nine-inning complete game for the second time in his baseball career. The first came against the University of Arkansas-Monticello. After allowing two unearned runs in the first inning, Smith did not allow another run. He struck out three batters and walked only one.
“This year, it was my goal to pitch a nine-inning complete game,” Smith said. “It was something I had never done before.”
McGaha said he is proud of Smith’s throwing performance and competitive spirit.
“Tanner threw us a great game and he gives a chance to win every time,” McGaha said. “He’s a senior so he’s been through this, and he knows how to compete.
Harding’s offensive success in the first game would not continue in game two of the doubleheader.
Harding’s defense was solid through the first three innings. In the top of the third inning, they pulled off a 5-4-3 double play to help junior pitcher Logan McCall escape the inning without allowing a run.
However, the Bulldogs would score an inning later on a solo home run by junior infielder Tanner Long. SWOSU would tack on another run later in the inning to make the score 2-0.
McCall’s struggles would continue in the fifth inning. The righty would allow two more extra-base hits, which scored two runs and extended the deficit to four.
On offense, Harding could not get anything going. Senior left-handed pitcher Tyler Tuck dominated the Bison lineup throughout. Tuck pitched all seven innings and struck out three batters, while only allowing three hits. Harding did not record an extra base hit.
“We have to find a way to get more consistent and find a way to get more hungry,” senior outfielder Jack Thomas said. “It’s in there; we’ve got a chance to do it, so we’ve just got to stay with it.”
Harding fell in game two by a score of 4-0. This was the shortest game of the season, lasting only one hour and 32 minutes.
Harding now must win the rubber match today to take the series. McGaha said he is optimistic the team can rebound and find the win.
“You just have to win the series,” Coach McGaha said. “They’re one game behind us in the conference standings and we need to stay ahead of them if we’re going to make the postseason.”
Harding (22-13) is now in a three-way tie for fourth place in the Great American Conference with a 13-10 conference record. The top six teams advance to the GAC Tournament next month.