Loyola earns four-game split with No. Freed Hardeman

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WESTWEGO, La. – The Loyola Wolf Pack rode the arms of two freshmen starting pitchers Sunday, earning a doubleheader sweep over the No. 9 Freed Hardeman Lions. Freshman John Blanchard III pitched the Wolf Pack to a 3-2 win, then freshmen Stephen Still and Jacob Coleman helped Loyola earn a 6-5 walk-off win in the series finale.

Loyola is now 7-5 on the season, adding two Top 10 wins under its belt this weekend. The Wolf Pack is back in action next weekend when they host LSU Alexandria for a three-game series starting Friday at 5 p.m.

GAME 1: Loyola 3, #9 Freed Hardeman 2 (7)

The Wolf Pack scored more runs in the first two innings than they did in the 16 innings played Saturday, jumping out to a quick 3-0 lead. Tucker Ganley and Payton Alexander started the first with a walk and a hit by pitch, then after Michael Calamari bunted to move the runners, Allen Dennis doubled down the right-field line to plate the two runs. Ganley picked up an RBI in the second inning, scoring pinch-running Aaron Davis to push the score to 3-0.

Blanchard got the start for Loyola and pitched a complete game with four strikeouts, giving up two earned runs on five hits in the first collegiate win. He pitched out of some early trouble, too, getting an inning-ending double-play ball in the first inning, then recording back-to-back strikeouts in the fourth inning with two runners on base to squash both threats. He pitched 1-2-3 innings in the second and third, and he faced the minimum in the fifth inning after picking off an FHU base runner.

Trailing 3-0 in the sixth inning, however, the Lions finally got to Blanchard. They loaded the bases with no outs and scored two runs off sacrifice flies, but Blanchard got out of the frame with the Wolf Pack still leading 3-2.

Blanchard came back out in the seventh inning and retired the Lions’ batters in order to finish off the win.

GAME 2: Loyola 6, #9 Freed Hardeman 5 (7)

Both teams were hitless through the first two innings, but the hits started to come in the third. After the Lions got a two-out double in the top half of the frame, Loyola used five hits to score four runs in the bottom half. Brandon Duhon reached base with one out on an infield single, then Alexander blasted his third home run of the season over the left-center field wall to put Loyola up 2-0. Calamari doubled on the next pitch and Dennis made it 4-0 with his fifth home run of the season – a no-doubter over the left-field wall.

The Wolf Pack made it 5-0 in the fourth inning after Duhon reached base with two outs. Ganley came through during the next at-bat to score Duhon, but the Lions battled back a few innings later to tie the game in the seventh.

Stephen Still started on the bump for Loyola and pitched well. The freshman worked 5.2 innings with seven strikeouts while allowing four unearned runs on five hits. The only base runner Still allowed in the first two innings came via an error, then he stranded a two-out double in the third inning to keep FHU off the board. He pitched a clean inning in the fourth and allowed one hit in the fifth before finally running into some trouble in the sixth.

Leading 5-0 in the sixth, Still appeared to get an inning-ending ground ball, but an infield error scored the Lions’ first run to extend the frame. A single during the next at-bat put two runners on base, then a Lions three-run home run cut the Wolf Pack’s lead to 5-4.

FHU tied the game in the top of the seventh, but reliever Jacob Coleman entered to pitch and got an inning-ending double play with the bases loaded to keep it a 5-5 game.

Loyola got things going in the bottom half of the seventh after Peyton Lacoste reached on an infield error with no outs. Pinch-runner Landon Trosclair got into scoring position with one out after stealing second, then Kason Cullins ended the game with a shot up the middle to score the game-winning run.

On freshmen starters, John Blanchard III and Stephen Still:

“The two freshmen starting pitchers did an outstanding job. They earned the right to get an opportunity like that. We know they’re a big part of our future, but how big of a part of our present is up to them. They stepped up big today and showed what they’re capable of.”

On Kason Cullins’ pinch-hit walk-off:

“Kason is a competitor, so I know the moment is never too big for him. Whether he comes through or not, it’s not because the moment is too big. He’s a perfect guy for that spot.”

On bouncing back Sunday with two wins:

“We were doing the right things but we just had to stay with it. We have to learn from games like (Saturday) because those are the types of games we’re going to be in, in the postseason. Against those types of teams and against those arms we faced yesterday, those are all-american-type guys. Those are the guys we have to compete against, and we schedule these types of games for a reason. Yesterday it didn’t go like we wanted, but today we came back, just played the game, and it went our way.”

Loyola now owns the all-time series with Freed-Hardeman 6-4. Each of the six wins, dating back to the 2019 season, have come while the Lions were a top-10 team.

With the two-run double in Game 1 and his 26th-career homer in Game 2, Allen Dennis now has 120 RBI in his Wolf Pack career, the third-most in school history.

Stephen Still and John Blanchard III both started their first games as members of the Wolf Pack.

Each of the Wolf Pack starting pitchers also threw a season-best in strikeouts, Still with seven and Blanchard with four.

Payton Alexander now has nine home runs in his career. In the 2021 season, he leads Loyola in both hits (19) and RBI (19).

You can keep up with the Pack by following Wolf Pack Athletics on Facebook at Facebook.com/LoyolaWolfPack, Twitter and Instagram @LoyolaWolfPack, and by checking out our website at LoyolaWolfPack.com

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