JACKSONVILLE — Jacksonville State lost its season opener Friday afternoon, but two key pieces for the Gamecocks put together promising starts to the year.
In the end, the non-league won-loss record won't matter once Ohio Valley Conference play begins. JSU is aiming to be ready when the OVC schedule starts March 6 at Eastern Illinois, so even though JSU fell 10-4 at home to Missouri of the Southeastern Conference, it's still important how redshirt junior Dylan Hathcock pitched and how senior clean-up hitter Alex Webb swung the bat.
Hathcock pitched five innings and allowed five hits and three runs. He started slow but rebounded after allowing a leadoff walk and two first-inning runs.
"He's a very good guy being within himself," said Webb, the team's starting catcher. "That first inning could've gotten away from him, but he took a deep breath, settled in and went back to being himself, throwing strikes. That's the key — throwing strikes and getting ahead. It's good to see him settle in and give us five innings."
After striking out in his first at-bat, Webb managed a pair of two-run home runs. The first came in the fourth inning and left the park like a shot. The second one came in the sixth and barely got over the fence a few feet inside the foul pole. All the same, it still counted.
"The first AB I was way too amped up," Webb said. "Opening day, first AB, big guy on the mound. He had good stuff, and I just got way too big and way too out of my shoes. Second at-bat, I got settled in and I kind of saw what they were doing to me, and I made an adjustment. I got lucky on the second (home run)."
He said he owes assistant coach Evan Bush for "how he game plans, for our scouting reports and how he prepares us to make in-game changes."
Other than Webb, JSU didn't generate much offense against Missouri's Ian Bedell, who went six innings and threw 94 pitches. He struck out 11 and walked one but gave up both of Webb's homers.
Andrew Naismith walked twice, including once in front of one of Webb's homers. Cole Frederick beat out an infield single ahead of the other of Webb's homers. Tre Kirklin, Alex Strachan and Chase Robinson each had a hit.
"The disappointing thing for us offensively is we didn't have very many of those opportunities," JSU coach Jim Case said. "Part of that is their guy. He pitched really well."
Four to know
—Christian Edwards pitched one inning and allowed four runs, all earned. Trey Fortner worked two and gave up one run, which was unearned. Freshman Colton Lewis debuted by throwing the ninth inning. He gave up two runs, which weren't earned because of a dropped flyball in the outfield. Case said those three won't be used in Saturday's game against Missouri.
—JSU made three errors, which displeased Case: "We feel like we're going to be a good defensive club. We weren't tonight. We kicked the ball around. We were charged with three errors, but you could almost say we made four or five errors, being honest with you."
—The Gamecocks drew 1,039 to Friday's home game. They drew 1,112 to last year's season opener at home against North Alabama.
—Chad McDaniel and Seth Halvorsen each hit a home run for Missouri, which got 11 hits and six walks.
—Case on nearly taking out Hathcock after four innings: "He ended up throwing 68 pitches. Borderline too many pitches for me. Probably eight pitches too many. About 60 is about enough — 68 is a lot of pitches for the first time out."
—Case on Edwards, one of the team's top relievers, struggling through his inning on the mound: "Not the way you want to start your year, but this game is like that. This game doesn't pause just because something bad happens. It just keeps going. Christian has just got to keep working, putting it together and try to be a little bit better tomorrow than he was today, and I believe he'll make it back to where he wants to be."
—JSU will play Missouri again Saturday at 3 p.m. with sophomore Isaiah Magwood pitching. The two teams will meet Sunday at noon, with sophomore Michael Gilliland pitching for the Gamecocks.