Lions muzzle Samford Bulldogs to improve to 6-0



Third baseman Shea Thomas trotted home after hitting his first home run of the 2023 season, a solo shot to left center.

On Friday evening, the Southeastern Lions pulled out a narrow 6-5 victory against the visiting Samford Bulldogs. The matchup was the first of a three-game home stand against Samford. 

The Lions came into this matchup 5-0 on the young season and atop the Southland Conference standings. In those five games, they have averaged 14.4 runs per game. 

However, the beginning of Friday’s game was less than ideal for the home team. Starting pitcher Brennan Stuprich allowed an RBI single from first baseman (1B) Steven Klein and an RBI sacrifice fly from designated hitter (DH) Lucas Steele to put the Lions in a 0-2 hole after the first inning. 

Following the difficult start, the Lions were able to make up the deficit by scoring a run in the second and third innings to tie the game at 2-2. DH Jake Killingsworth was responsible for each run: he ran home to score on a wild pitch in the second and smacked an RBI single through the left side in the third.

The Bulldogs snatched back the lead in the fourth inning when right fielder (RF) Maurice Hampton hit an RBI double down the right field line, bringing the score to 2-3. A two-run homer to left field from third baseman (3B) John Anderson brought the score to 5-2 and further cushioned Samford’s lead over the Lions.

Strupich’s night on the mound ended following the fifth inning. In his second start of the season, he pitched five innings, tossed seven strikeouts and gave up five runs.  

This was the first taste of adversity the club experienced this season. Southeastern had not been down at any point this season, let alone faced a three-run deficit. 

The Lions quickly showed some resiliency in the bottom of the fifth. 3B Shea Thomas belted a solo home run to left center to chip away at the bulldogs’ lead. 

“Anytime you can drive the ball out of the park, it’s amazing. I’m just happy we came out with the W,” Thomas said. 

Coach Matt Riser relied heavily on the arms in the bullpen for the rest of the game, as he sent out a different pitcher for each of the final four innings. Pitcher Hunter O’Toole took the mound at the top of the sixth, giving up no runs or hits and tossing one strikeout to stem Stanford’s offense.

The Lions then scored a litany of runs in the bottom of the sixth to take the lead for good. First, with the bases loaded, center fielder (CF) Tyler Finke forced an RBI walk, bringing the score to 4-5. Next, center (C) Bryan Grizzaffi scored on a wild pitch to tie the game and finally, Thomas hit a sacrifice fly for his second RBI of the night to take the lead, 6-5. 

Pitchers Jackson Rodriguez, Hayden Robb and Dalton Aspholm each tossed a single inning and held the Bulldogs to a combined zero runs, two hits and six strikeouts to close out the game with the win. O’Toole was credited with his first win of the season and Aspholm earned his second save. 

The Lions’ 6-0 start has the dugout in high spirits. Killingsworth commented on the camaraderie between the team to begin the season. 

“I felt great about it. We’re playing well as a team and everybody’s starting to really come together as a team. I think it’s going to be a fun season,” Killingsworth said.

Riser strided onto the field and talked to his team after they secured his 301st victory as head coach of the Lions.  

“I thought it was a great team effort. It was the first time we had to play from behind all year long. They jumped on us early and we didn’t panic, we put up some big zeroes and the offense got going a little bit after a rocky start,” he said. 

He remarked on the gigantic effect the bullpen had on taking back control of the game from the Bulldogs. 

“I was really impressed with the bullpen. We had four different guys come out and all throw zeroes for us to finish out a really quality game,” he said. 

Riser also stated the Lions’ pristine record matters less to him than the process of bringing the team together to be successful. 

“Obviously everybody wants to win every game you play, but it’s the process of getting there and I think our process has been good. Regardless of the outcome, if we can stay focused like we have and stay on that process, we’ll have a great chance,” he said. 

Riser and the Lions will continue their homestand against Samford at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 and at 1 p.m. on Sunday, Feb. 26. Visit Lion Sports for more information on Lions baseball.