When College of Idaho freshman pitcher Parker Vernon heard he’d be starting his first collegiate baseball game, he admits feeling nervous, anxious, even having some trouble sleeping.
After all, the lefty from Redmond High in Bend, Ore., had thrown just 7 2-3 innings in his young college career heading into Tuesday’s rivalry series finale against Northwest Nazarene.
“I really haven’t felt this way since high school,” Vernon said.
Despite the nerves, Vernon surpassed expectations for the College of Idaho, pitching 5 2-3 innings for his first victory, an 11-4 win for the 22nd-ranked Coyotes.
“He’s really been a one, two or three inning guy, the most he’s even gone in inter-squads is three innings,” said C of I coach Shawn Humberger, whose team finished an NAIA West Region series against British Columbia on Sunday, which ate up most of the Yotes’ pitching.
The C of I (23-9, 8-4 NAIA West) needed someone to step up.
“We know he’s going to throw strikes, we know he’s going to work down, so he usually minimizes big innings,” Humberger said. “Can we get more than three (innings) ‘cause we needed more than three? That’s what we were hoping going in, and so for him to give us close to six innings was huge.”
Vernon (1-0) did it by minimizing damage, getting a one-out, bases loaded ground ball for a double play to end a second-inning threat, then a one out, bases loaded grounder for another twin killing to end the fifth.
“I’m happy I have the defense that I did behind me because I gave up some hard hit balls and they picked up me, especially in those bases-loaded situations,” Vernon said.
The Yotes offense also helped out, getting a two-out RBI single from Tanner Hodges and a two-out, two-run double from Jeffrey Harris in the bottom of the first inning for a quick 3-0 edge.
“As soon as they put one up there’s a weight off and as soon as you start to see those runs add up on the board, it’s, ‘I have a lead to work with and I just have to throw strikes and let the (defense) work,’” Vernon said.
The quick start also was a relief for Humberger, who worried his team might be down after nearly sweeping UBC, only to see Sunday’s game slip away in the final two innings.
“To jump back up and go get a good first inning and turn right around and score in the first inning and get some momentum, put up a three-spot, get some momentum going was big for us,” he said.
The Yotes kept the momentum rolling with an RBI single in the second by Jarel Lewis, then a five-run rally in the fifth for a 9-0 lead before the Crusaders (15-12, 4-6 GNAC) finally figured out Vernon, scoring three in the sixth to end his day.
By then, it was too little, too late, as Michael Garza, Chad Yeggy and Todd Griffiths combined to finish off the win and the C of I tacked on two more runs in the seventh.
“We didn’t take care of momentum today,” NNU coach Tim Onofrei said. “We get a couple guys on early in the ballgame then we hit into a double play with two of our faster guys, things that generally don’t show up very often.
“Unlucky is what I’d call us right now.”