HOUSTON — In a surprising early season pitching duel, it was one pitch that made the difference at Minute Maid Park during the MLB Urban Invitational on Friday afternoon.
It was a pitch Southern senior ace Jesse “Doc” Holiday wishes he could have back.
Texas Southern No. 9 hitter Tyler Flanagan hit a scorching line drive that just cleared the right-field fence in the third inning to give the Tigers a 1-0 victory over Southern.
“I just left one pitch up and it cost us,” said Holiday, who was otherwise masterful in striking out nine batters and walking none in eight innings of four-hit baseball.
“I led off with a fastball and he tried bunting. So, I just eased another one in there, thinking he would try bunting again. It was a fastball right down the middle.”
Flanagan did not know if he had got it all, running full speed to first base.
“It was out over the plate and I was able to extend my arms and got it,” Flanagan said. “I really didn’t think it was enough to get over, but it did.”
TSU pitcher Felix Gomez did the rest, keeping the Jaguars off-balance with his fastball and off-speed pitch. Gomez struck out three in eight innings and allowed only two runners to get past first base.
“I’m a contact pitcher, so I was just trying to get pop-ups and ground balls,” Gomez said. “It worked well and one run was enough for me today.”
The Jaguars (2-3) did put the ball in play, but SU was thrown out trying to steal second base twice and had a third runner thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double.
“We hit the ball (Friday), just in the wrong place,” SU coach Roger Cador said. “We are playing in a big park and we hit the ball all over — they were just caught. We will try to build from this game and come back (Saturday).”
The only two times SU advanced past first base was on a TSU error in the first inning and a Caleb Hatcher triple in the sixth, that could have been ruled an error after it hit off TSU center fielder Corbin Smith’s glove.
“When we did get good pitching, we took bad swings,” SU outfielder Stephen Wallace said. “We need to take good hacks at the good pitches. We need to capitalize on those pitches, especially when (runners) are on base.”
TSU (4-2) wasn’t much better offensively, getting four hits, two of which were infield singles. Holiday, who was pitching 20 miles from his hometown of Sugar Land, Texas, was a big part of the Tigers’ struggles.
“I felt good today,” Holiday said. “It builds my confidence pretty good heading into the season. It also felt great to be back home. I got to throw in front of my grandmother for the first time.”
Added Cador: “These are the type of games you hate to lose for a pitcher because Jesse pitched his heart out.”
Texas Southern coach Michael Robertson wasn’t surprised the lone run came from his No. 9 hitter.
“We are still trying to find our identity, and for some reason I like T.J. in that nine spot,” Robertson said.
He also liked what he saw out of Gomez.
“Normally, I ask our starters to go seven innings and three runs or less, but he was phenomenal today mixing his pitches up and keeping them off-balance.
“The defense was also a big moment-builder for us. Gomez did a good job with his timing to the plate and (catcher Andrew) Garza did a good job throwing them out. It was a good day.”
The roof was open on a beautiful 66-degree day in Houston. … The Jaguars defense was solid, not committing an error in the game. … The Jaguars will be back at it Saturday, with a 4 p.m. game against Alabama State, which will be broadcast on the MLB Network. Southern will wrap up its three-day stay in Houston on Sunday with a 3:30 p.m. game against reigning SWAC champion Prairie View. … The Jaguars will start junior right-hander Jose De Leon on Saturday, with senior right-hander Daniel Garcia scheduled to pitch Sunday.