And the Ryan Mullins Victory Tour continues.
Winthrop's senior lefty again dazzled with 7 2-3 innings of shutout ball on Sunday, leading the Eagles to a 3-0 win over High Point, a 2-1 series win and a rise above .500 in the Big South Conference standings. Mullins, the 2007 relief specialist who had never started a college game a month ago, took over the team lead with four wins, all in his last four starts.
"I think it's more that I'm getting more comfortable," Mullins said, seeming a bit lost trying to explain his success. "The more comfortable I feel, the more confidence I have in throwing certain pitches."
Yeah, but this is getting ridiculous.
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Mullins (4-0) should have enough innings to qualify for the Big South individual leaders when they're posted today. Coming into the weekend, seven pitchers had four wins but only Coastal Carolina's Joey Haug was 4-0, placing second behind UNC Asheville's Alan DeRatt (6-0).
Mullins lowered his ERA to 1.75, which would rank fourth in last week's stats. He has allowed just two runs in his four starts (25 2-3 innings) and has thrown 10 1-3 consecutive scoreless frames.
Helped out by some fine defense on Sunday, Mullins retired nine of his first 10 batters, the one who reached sitting down after a double play. He ended up striking out four and walking four, allowing five hits before Josh McDonald preserved the shutout with his third save.
"The one play Bryn (Henderson) made on third ... Kevin (Nolan) made a nice running catch in the outfield to save a run," Mullins said, crediting his defense. "They helped me out and then we got some runs."
The Eagles (15-20, 5-4 Big South) again scratched their runs across, notching the first on Nolan's RBI single in the third inning. With each team running itself out of potential rallies, that was it until the seventh.
Tyler McBride stood at the plate with one out and got clipped on the ankle. He limped to first and took off on the next pitch.
Catcher Billy Alvino threw to second with a good bead on the sliding McBride, but the throw skipped under Alfie Wheeler's glove and into center field. McBride leaped up and hightailed it for third, the relay coming to Randy Schwartz with room to spare.
The throw hit McBride in the back and he was safe. Three pitches later, with everybody at The Winthrop Ballpark knowing McBride was going to run on a ground ball, Henderson tapped a roller that second baseman Spenser Atwood snared.
McBride was halfway down the line and Atwood had him cold, but inexplicably chucked the ball over Alvino's head. McBride, who slammed on the brakes when he saw the ball caught, walked home for a 2-0 lead.
"I thought I was going to get thrown out," McBride said, the seams of the bean ball still imprinted on his ankle. "I was going home, I was dead on a good throw, but he overthrew it."
Mullins kept pitching himself out of trouble and got some great plays behind him, Henderson hitting the dirt for a ball down the line and then hustling to the bag, again diving to force out Jeff Cowan. Nolan also took a grounder that he could have thrown to first for an easy out, but instead threw to Henderson to force out the lead runner.
McDonald gave up a few hard knocks in the ninth but Aaron Bonomi stepped in front of Wheeler's line drive to end it. Winthrop, lethargic in a series-opening 4-3 loss to the Panthers (13-22, 6-6), found some answers and kept itself in position for a late run at the Big South regular-season title.
"We're 5-4, and that's not great, but it's good," coach Joe Hudak said. "Of course we'd prefer to be 9-0, but playing two good teams on the road to start the season, I was thinking a good record would be 6-3.
"Great pitching and great defense win ballgames and we played great today. We've just got to keep showing up."