OXFORD — Colton Pate pitched the game of a lifetime, and it couldn’t have come at a better time for Jacksonville State.
Pate struck out a career-high 14 and worked seven shutout innings as JSU beat Eastern Illinois 6-3 on Saturday. That marked the Gamecocks’ first Ohio Valley Conference win of the season. JSU, a preseason co-favorite to win the league title, had lost its first four league games.
Not only did Pate’s pitching provide a huge lift to Jacksonville State (9-9, 1-4 OVC), the Gamecocks played error-less defense, and the batting order produced the type of big inning that’s been missing lately.
“If we keep doing what we did today, we’ll be golden,” said Pate, a junior from Lincoln.
Pate entered having struck out 13 batters in 16 innings of work this season, but on Saturday, he matched that with the next-to-last batter he faced in the seventh inning. When EIU’s Nicholas McCormick swung and missed on a third strike to end the inning, Pate had thrown 107 pitches and set JSU’s season high with his 14th strikeout. He said later that he couldn’t remember striking out as many as 14 batters in a game at any level.
Three of his victims watched as the third strike sailed across the plate, but 11 others swung and missed on the last pitch before heading back to the dugout. Of the last 11 outs he recorded, 10 came by strikeout.
More importantly, Pate (1-2) allowed only three hits — all singles.
“The thing was that he was able to throw any of his pitches for strikes on any count,” JSU coach Jim Case said. “Usually, he has a good fastball and slider, and with his others, he hasn’t been as confident. But now, his curve and his changeup have gotten better. … They couldn’t sit on any one pitch.”
The big outing wasn’t a surprise, as Pate had success in his last time on the mound. In a 4-0 loss at Austin Peay a week earlier, Pate gave up three runs (only two earned) in the first inning, but he worked four shutout innings after that.
Against Eastern Illinois (2-15, 1-1), that carried over. This time, he got EIU out 1-2-3 in the first inning, and then to open the second inning, third baseman Nic Gaddis stopped a hard-hit ball down the line before tossing to first for the out.
“Nic Gaddis made a great catch, and that set the tone for the game,” Pate said.
Even the weather didn’t bother Pate on this day. Rain had drenched Oxford’s Choccolocco Park on Saturday morning, and the grounds crew had plenty of work to get the field ready for the game. The contest started on time at 1 p.m., and Pate said he had no problems with the field.
“The field crew did a great job, and the mound was pristine,” he said.
Pate bought time for his teammates until they could solve Eastern Illinois pitcher Michael McCormick.
The break came in the bottom of the seventh. Chase Robinson opened with a single, moved to second on Andrew Naismith's sacrifice bunt and took third on a balk.
After Gaddis popped out, Joe McGuire and Nolan Greckel each walked, which loaded the bases.
That brought up Clayton Daniel, a preseason All-American. On a 3-1 count, Daniel rocketed a shot into the left-field corner. By the time EIU left fielder Logan Beaman had recovered the ball, Daniel stood on second base, and all three runners had scored.
Hunter Clark replaced McCormick, and JSU's Hayden White greeted him with his first homer of the year.
"A hit like Clayton's does wonders for him, and it does wonders for us," Case said. "We needed somebody to get a hit with runners on base. They couldn't pitch around him in that instance. When it got to 3-1, they had to pitch it in there."
Grant Chandler relieved Pate and worked the final two innings. Matthew Hammers singled and scored in the eighth on Dalton Etheridge's groundout.
Now, with the first OVC win out of the way, JSU has a chance to win the series Sunday when it hosts EIU again at Choccolocco Park.
"It's amazing how hard it can be sometimes to get that first win," Case said. "I hope the second one comes sooner than the first."