CONWAY, Ark. – Senior Cole Stapler tossed his first career shutout as the Nicholls State University baseball program blanked the University of Central Arkansas, 5-0, Thursday night at Bear Stadium.
“I think we had the grit and the grind tonight. I feel like their arm is a good arm, but I felt like our guys were the hunters tonight,” said head baseball coach Seth Thibodeaux. “[We] were very aggressive and understood [our] roles. Cole Stapler set the tone of the game early on and we made some beautiful plays defensively.”
Two infield singles by junior outfielder Gavin Wehby and junior first baseman Kyle Knauth in the first frame resulted in the first run of the game after the throw at first attempting to get Knauth out sailed over the head of UCA first baseman Hunter Strong, allowing Wehby to come home.
Sophomore second baseman Ethan Valdez extended his hitting streak to 12 games with a leadoff single in the top of the third. After Wehby advanced him to second on a sacrifice bunt, Valdez scored on a double down the left-field line by junior shortstop Joey Morales.
After senior outfielder Quade Smith reached on a fielder’s choice in the fourth, fellow senior catcher Alex Tucker struck a ball toward the left side on a hit-and-run that clanked off a UCA infielder and rolled slowly into the outfield. This resulted in a double for Tucker and sent Smith to third. Valdez hit a flyball to deep right field, allowing Smith to advance home for a 3-0 Nicholls lead.
Wehby added to the Colonels tally in the top of the seventh when he lifted the first pitch of his at-bat over the wall in right-center. That marked Wehby’s first homer in a Nicholls uniform and gave the Colonels a 5-0 advantage.
Stapler, meanwhile, mowed through the Bears lineup, accumulating a career-high 10 strikeouts for the second time this season. The 6-5 righty threw first-pitch strikes to 26 of 33 batters and did not allow more than one hit in an inning. Stapler scattered just four hits to improve his record to 7-6. He has thrown 17 scoreless innings between his last two road starts.
“I just wanted to come out and give a quality start for the guys. [We] put up some runs early so I was just trying to hold them. We are about to peak and at the right time,” said Stapler.
The Colonels recorded 11 hits which included two apiece from junior outfielder Chet Niehaus, Valdez and Wehby.
The win puts Nicholls at 15-13 in conference play alongside Lamar, Stephen F. Austin and UCA for a four-way tie for fourth. The top-eight teams advance to the Southland Conference tournament.
Game 2 is slated to start at 6 p.m. Friday.