Justin Stringer insisted he dropped an easy popup on purpose. His coach wasn’t sure he believed him.
Either way, it led to an unusual double play that helped the Houston Tigers wiggle out of a late jam.
Stringer’s defensive play helped senior Gus Durst escape his only mess. He struck out 10 as part of a complete-game shutout as Houston won its season opener Monday against Thayer 2-0 at Tiger Field.
The Tigers were hardly sharp and sometimes sloppy, but coach Brent Hall was pleased
to start the season on a winning note. Houston advances in the SCA Tournament to face top-seeded Ava at 4 p.m. today (Thursday) at home.
“They didn’t have a real successful football or basketball season, so it’s big to get back to a winning state of mind,” Hall said. “It’s been a tough year athletically on the boy’s side, so we definitely needed this for confidence.”
They may have not gotten it without a quirky defensive play.
Thayer only trailed 1-0 when the Bobcats loaded the bases with no outs in the top of the sixth. Durst induced a weak pop-up to Stringer at second base that was immediately ruled an infield fly. Stringer dropped the ball and when the runner from third broke home, he threw a strike to catcher Kirk Pierce, who dove and tagged out the baserunner.
After a moment of confusion, the umpire ruled that the batter was out due to his infield fly ruling and the runner — allowed by rule to advance at his own risk — was also out.
“I told (Stringer) when he came off the field that’s the best drop he’s ever made,” Hall said. “He tried to tell me that he did it on purpose, but I don’t know if I quite believe that.”
Durst got the next hitter to bounce out to third to escape the threat, and Houston added an insurance run in the bottom half of the inning
“I believe that baseball’s a game where if you play right and hard, good things happen to you,” Hall said. “Any way you look at it, we’ll take it.”
With little offensive support, Durst was on top of his game in his season debut. He struck out seven of the first 12 batters he faced and only allowed two baserunners through five innings. He walked one and gave up four hits.
Durst appears ready to fill the role vacated by Trever Sudheimer, last year’s staff ace.
“I don’t show a lot of emotion when he does that because that’s what I expect and I think he expects that of himself,” Hall said of Durst. “For the first game of the year, you couldn’t ask for any better performance.”
After an offseason of hitting at an indoor batting cage for the first time, Hall said he expects this to be his best offensive team yet. The Tigers hardly looked like it against Thayer (0-1). They had one hit through five innings before Durst followed Cory Hart’s two-out double with a RBI single up the middle in the bottom of the sixth.
Durst accounted for Houston’s first run with a sacrifice fly in the first that scored Stringer, who reached on an error.
The Tigers had trouble making solid contact against Thayer right-hander Eric Williams, who struck out two and walked three in six innings. Seven of Houston’s first 12 outs were lazy fly balls.
“I got frustrated with them in the fourth inning and told them we were going to run poles for every ball we hit in the air. I don’t know whether it’s we’re dropping our hands or swinging at bad pitches, but we’ve got to get that corrected because fly balls are the easiest thing to catch.”
Durst was 1-for-2 with a pair of RBIs. Pierce and Hart had one hit apiece.. Stringer, Durst and David Weybright each had one stolen base.