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Cougars Win Dramatic Home Opener


The Cougars won their home opener in front of a large crowd Friday night at Jack Russell Stadium. Tonight was the first of a three game series against visiting Northwood University.

The evening was very memorable in a lot of different ways. It started with the pre-game ceremonies as Paula Taylor, wife of former assistant coach Ernie Taylor, threw out the first pitch in memory of ET, who passed away to be with his Lord and Savior this past October.

The game was memorable as the Cougars slid past Northwood winning the game in the bottom of the ninth, 8-7. Both games so far this season for the Cougars have ended in the bottom of the ninth inning.

The Cougars fell behind early as Northwood put three runs across in the top of the first after a lead off walk and three base hits that followed.

In the bottom of the second, the Cougars were able to score one run as Jefte Velez had a one out single, was moved over to second, and Nate Krouse came through with an RBI single, making the score 3-1.

The scoring stayed put until the bottom of the fifth, where the Cougars came through with a five run inning. David Edwards drew a one out walk, followed by another walk issued to Chris Caudillo. Zack Weber was then hit by a pitch, making the bases loaded. Joel Felten followed with an RBI single scoring Edwards, making the score 3-2. Velez came through with a sacrifice fly to the outfield, scoring Caudillo to tie the game 3-3. Eddie Fuentes then hit a double scoring two, giving the Cougars a 5-3 lead. Manny Chmielewski ran for Fuentes, and scored on a pop up to right field that Northwood's outfielder mishandled, giving the Cougars a 6-3 lead.

Northwood added one in the sixth, after a walk and a double, shrinking the lead 6-4.

In the bottom half of the sixth, Chris Caudillo drew a walk with two outs, and ended up scoring after three wild pitches, advancing base to base on each one, making the score 7-4.

In the seventh, Northwood finally got to the Cougars bullpen, as they tacked on two more runs on three hits and a walk.

The Cougars took a 7-6 lead into the ninth, looking to close it out. Kevin Sides drew a lead off walk and eventually scored on a passed ball. The play of the inning came with the bases loaded and one out, and the score already tied at 7, and Northwood's Keneth Rivero popped up behind home plate. Catcher Eddie Fuentes was camping underneath a towering pop fly and as it came down, it popped out of his glove, and out of no where, Cougars first baseman Zack Weber, made a diving bare hand catch to save the play. Pitcher Josh Williams then shut the door to the inning striking out the next hitter to end the threat.

This set the stage for the Cougars in the bottom half of the ninth. Chris Caudillo led off the inning with a double down the left field line. Northwood then intentionally walked Zack Weber, putting runners at first and second with no outs. Joel Felten then bounced into a fielders choice, as Northwood got the force out at third, leaving Weber and Felten on base. Jefte Velez then singled to center field but the defense was playing too shallow for Weber to score from second. Fuentes then came up with the bases loaded and was hit by a pitch, forcing the winning run home, as the Cougars won in a dramatic finish.

Will Kirby started the game for the Cougars, pitching strong for 6 2/3 innings in his collegiate debut, striking out six, and scattering seven hits. Although he left with the lead and was in line for the win, he ended up with a no decision.

Kyle Baitz came in relief for Kirby in the seventh, getting the Cougars out of a jam, and then pitched a 1-2-3 eighth inning.

Josh Williams got the win for the Cougars, pitching one inning, and striking out one, while making some big pitches in the ninth inning.

Offensively, Clearwater was led by outfielder Jefte Velez, who went 3-4 on the day with three singles. Catcher Eddie Fuentes went 2-4, including a 2 RBI double, and also was hit by a pitch that forced in the winning run in the ninth.

The Cougars will look to win the series as they play games 2 and 3 of the three game set on Saturday beginning at noon. The games will be played at Frank Tack Park.