Tuskegee’s Danny Barnes breaks up a double play attempt from Albany State shortstop Allen Hardy during Sunday’s SIAC baseball game, which the Rams won, 4-3. (Staff Photo: John Millikan)
ALBANY — It was a typical Sunday afternoon for the Albany State baseball team, which meant one thing for the Golden Rams — don’t forget the broom.
After ASU finished off a three-game sweep of Tuskegee with a 4-3 come-from-behind victory, Clayton Roach knew exactly where to find it.
“We always keep the broom on standby,” said Roach, an ASU junior who grabbed the broom from the dugout and started sweeping. “That’s our motto. Sunday sweep.”
It was the fourth straight Sunday the Rams swept a three-game SIAC series to improve to 12-0 in the conference, and it gave ASU its 12th victory in its last 14 games. And just like every other sweep for ASU this season, this one was controlled by the Rams’ starting pitchers.
Former Worth County star and Herald Player of the Year Allen Fender threw all nine innings on Sunday and allowed just one hit in the final six frames, giving the Rams their ninth straight complete game against an SIAC opponent.
“I had to apologize to the (bullpen) after the game,” ASU coach Kenyan Conner said with a laugh. “I told them, ‘I know you all want to play, but we are winning and you have to tuck in your pride and stay with us.’ ”
Fender struggled to find command in the first three innings, but eventually the left-hander settled in and dominated Tuskegee’s lineup. He got stronger with every one of his 137 pitches and ended with nine strikeouts, one walk and six hits.
“He always starts slow. As the game goes he gets stronger, and that’s been his M.O. all year,” Conner said of Fender. “They started out on top, but we weren’t worried because we knew (Fender) would get stronger and make adjustments on the mound.”
Once Fender got his footing right on the mound, he took over.
“I was trying to get used to the mound,” he said. “It didn’t hold together because it didn’t get enough sun on it (Saturday). Once I found a spot on the rubber, it was all good from there.”
Fender gave up a leadoff hit in the second inning to Cameron Duncan, who eventually came around to score the game’s first run on a Russell Cornin RBI single. Tuskegee’s Danny Barnes added another run in the third inning on a double steal to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
Meanwhile, the ASU bats were having trouble finding holes in the Tiger defense, and Tuskegee starter Chris Emerson was perfect through the first 3 2/3 innings before former Westover star Jacob Campbell reached base on an error, which was followed by Uwen Udofia picking up ASU’s first hit to score Campbell and cut Tuskegee’s lead in half.
The Tigers jumped back ahead by two with a run in the sixth inning after back-to-back errors from Albany State’s Ryan Latner and Jeromy Arrington, and ASU center fielder Reise McDaniel said it was then when some of the Rams’ heads started to drop in frustration.
“Everybody started to get a little down,” McDaniel said.
Fender’s head never dropped, and the sophomore left a Tuskegee runner stranded in scoring position — and then McDaniel led off the bottom of the sixth with a double.
“That’s when everything changed,” McDaniel said. “Everybody woke up.”
McDaniel and Campbell both scored to even the score at 3-3, and then McDaniel knocked in Arrington in the bottom of the seventh on an RBI single to left field, giving ASU its first lead of the game.
Fender made sure the lead stuck, throwing 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth and making Roach scramble to grab the broom after Tuskegee’s Gene Moody struck out to end the game.
“We say, ‘Go get the broom and sweep them out,’ ” McDaniel said. “They take the broom and just start sweeping. Anything in the way, they just start sweeping it up.”
NOTES: Albany State (19-14) was led at the plate by McDaniel, who was 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI. Shortstop Allen Hardy was 2-for-4 with an RBI, and Campbell reached base twice on errors and scored two runs. … Fender leads the Rams with 41 strikeouts and has thrown three straight SIAC complete games. ASU’s other starters to throw three straight complete games are Leesburg native Andrew Bacon and John Paul Benard. … Tuskegee second baseman Jonathan Allen made several highlight-reel plays to keep Emerson’s perfect game alive for the first four innings. … ASU plays again in a non-conference game Tuesday against in-state rival Valdosta State. The Rams return to SIAC play Friday with a doubleheader at Morehouse. The Rams’ next home SIAC game is a doubleheader April 5 against Benedict.