Successful first test.
Winthrop opened the 2008 season and the first game of the Johnny Gill Memorial on Saturday exactly like it wanted to -- a comfortable win where several newbies got a real-game audition, backed up by the same-old, same-old from the veterans.
Sophomore Kevin Nolan belted three doubles and drove in six runs, senior Ryan Schwartz scattered five hits across six innings and the Eagles rolled over Evansville, 11-1.
"Good start, great start," coach Joe Hudak said. "I don't think it could have gone any better."
Paying tribute to Gill, a faithful supporter of Winthrop baseball until his death in March 2006, the Eagles (1-0) invited Gill's widow, Ann, to throw out the first pitch. As she did, the cloudy skies cleared and the season was officially under way.
From there it was all business -- Schwartz (1-0) plunked his first batter and gave up a single to the second but battled out of the jam with no damage, and the Eagles immediately torched Evansville starter Matthew Page (0-1) for five hits and three runs in the first inning.
"We came out strong today," said Nolan, who drove in the Eagles' first two runs with his first-inning single. "Scored almost every inning, which is nice. All around, we played great baseball and hopefully we can come out and do that every day."
Bryn Henderson and Billy Froehlich each delivered one-out singles in the first before John Murrian struck out, but Winthrop capitalized on the two-out situation.
Eddie Tisdale singled to load the bases before Nolan came up. The shortstop lifted one over second base to begin the scoring, and freshman Eddie Rohan followed with his first collegiate hit and RBI.
With a 3-0 lead, Schwartz hummed through his remaining five innings with little trouble, save two two-out singles in the fourth that plated the Purple Aces' only run. Elevated to No. 1 starter in fall practice, Schwartz got off to a solid start by striking out five.
As the runs continued to mount, Schwartz took a seat and Hudak went to his new arms, giving Mike Ritson, Casey Bradwell and Cam Walters their collegiate debuts. Each responded well, combining for a strikeout and a walk over three innings, until Walters closed the game by stepping on first base just ahead of Tom Heithoff.
"Ryan threw well, we expected him to throw well," Hudak said. "We had some of our young kids to get in and get an inning under their belts without too much pressure on."
The Eagles' hitters made sure there was little to no pressure, each starter but Murrian getting at least one hit (Murrian scored two runs after walking and reaching on a fielder's choice). Nolan responded every time he came up, knocking three doubles to left field and plating another run with a sacrifice fly.
"Been able to see the ball well during intrasquad this spring, so I'm glad it turned over to the season," Nolan said.
Once the last out was recorded and the Eagles had their answer -- if the potential they've got can translate into wins -- for at least one day, the team relaxed and sat down to watch the day's second game, between St. John's and Gardner-Webb. Winthrop will play St. John's at 2:30 p.m. today with freshman lefty Hamilton Bennett expected to start.
"We were happy to honor Johnny Gill," Hudak said. "Fitting game for us to honor him. I'm sure up in heaven he's smiling at us right now about this game."
• NOTES: Evansville left fielder/leadoff hitter Jim Viscomi crunched into the brick wall ringing the left-field line in the sixth inning while chasing a pop fly. He walked off but did not return. ... The family affair matchup never materialized. Winthrop pitcher Dave Carbonell's brother J.R. Carbonell throws for the Purple Aces but neither got into the game. ... Freshmen Sean Sullivan and Bennett Jordan also made their debuts, pinch-hitting in the eighth inning.