By Dave Wagner
Sophomore Josh Kuchta hit a two-run, inside-the-park homer in the sixth inning Saturday and Eastern New Mexico University wrapped up its baseball season with a 5-3 win over Lone Star Conference South Division co-champion Texas A&M-Kingsville at Greyhound Field.
The Greyhounds (19-27-1, 8-13-1 South) took two of three in the series from the Javelinas after splitting Friday’s doubleheader. Kingsville (29-22, 16-8) fell into a tie for first place with Abilene Christian, which beat West Texas A&M 6-4 on Saturday, but the Javs earned the South’s No. 1 seed in the LSC tournament and will host the four-team, double-elimination event next weekend.
Senior left-hander Ian Thurman-Kelly (4-3) worked eight innings for the win, with Trevor Davis earning his second save of the season despite giving up an unearned run in the ninth.
With the score tied 2-2, Boyd Erickson and Joey Aguilar hit one-out singles for the Hounds in the sixth. Erickson then stole third and scored on a throwing error by TAMK catcher Clint Miller, with Aguilar taking second on the play.
With two out, Kuchta hit a line drive that eluded the diving Jon Forte and rolled to the fence in center. Kuchta circled the bases without a play for his first home run at ENMU.
Kuctha led an 11-hit attack for the Hounds, going 3-for-4, while Erickson was 2-for-4. Left-hander Jeff Peters (3-4) took the loss for the Javs, allowing nine hits in seven innings.
Nothing helps a pitcher like an early lead.
Sophomore right-hander Kelly Crain, Eastern New Mexico University’s steadiest hurler all season, benefited from a six-run first and went on to pitch the Greyhounds to an 11-3 victory over Texas A&M-Kingsville in Friday’s opener of a Lone Star Conference South Division baseball doubleheader at Greyhound Field.
“I got great run support,” said Crain, who threw a four-hitter to improve to 5-3 with a staff-best 4.86 earned run average. “Their guy was struggling a little bit, and our hitters really stepped up.”
The second game was a complete turnaround. Kingsville erupted for 13 fourth-inning runs and rolled to a 22-0 win behind ace right-hander Garrett Murdy, who improved to 12-1 with a seven-hitter.
ENMU got only two hits in the first inning in the seven-inning opener, but parlayed three walks and a hit batsman from Kingsville starter Kyle A. Thompson (1-1) into a 6-1 cushion. Mark Wallace and Joey Aguilar delivered two-run singles, while Matt Hinojosa drove in a run with a groundout and Josh Kuchta added a sacrifice fly.
Aguilar added another two-run single in a four-run sixth as ENMU snapped a five-game losing streak.
“It was a big win for us,” ENMU coach Phil Clabaugh said. “I knew we were going to have to play well to beat Murdy.”
Crain, who hurled his fifth complete game and second against Kingsville, gave up two singles and a run to the game’s first two hitters, then retired 12 of the next 14.
“That takes a lot of pressure off,” he said of the early lead. “They (his teammates) also helped me out in the field with a lot of good plays.”
Crain has developed confidence in a big-breaking curveball after struggling much of his freshman season.
“Getting a year under my belt has helped me a lot,” he said. “The coaches helped me add a slider this year, and I’ve just tried to take a different mentality — take it one hitter at a time instead of looking too far down the road.”
Leading 3-0 in the nightcap, Kingsville sent 17 batters to the plate in the fourth, including two hits each by Brandon Wittner and Thomas Melvin, in chasing ENMU right-hander Jesse Garcia-Perez (4-5).
Eight players had at least two of the Javs’ 24 hits, and Eastern also contributed seven errors.
“It just wasn’t Jesse’s night, and we didn’t play very well behind him,” Clabaugh said.
With one game left, Kingsville maintained a one-game division lead as ACU split at West Texas A&M, losing the nightcap 2-1.
“We were a little tight the first game,” Javs coach Russell Stockton said. “But the thing for us was finding out that WT won a game. I think in the second game we just relaxed and got after it.”
Murdy, who came in with a 2.30 ERA and 131 strikeouts in 90 innings, fanned nine — all in the final 5 1/3 innings — and walked three.
“He’s done well all year long,” Stockton said. “It felt good to get those early runs, and about the middle of the game it finally kicked in for him.”