The Wolf Pack pitcher’s great grandfather, who was diagnosed with Lou Gehrig’s disease six months ago, passed away this week at the age of 85.
“It was tough for me,” Shipley said. “It was a tough week. I thought about him all night. That’s why I dedicated this game to him.”
It just so happened that Shipley dedicated his best effort as a starting pitcher in a Wolf Pack uniform to his great grandfather. The sophomore pitched his first complete-game victory of the year as the Wolf Pack beat the San Jose Spartans, 4-1, in front of 518 fans at Peccole Park.
Actually, make that 519.
“I know he was here watching me tonight,” said Shipley of his great grandfather.
Shipley was in total control of his emotions and the Spartans bats all evening. The 6-foot-2, 170-pound right-hander from Medford, Ore., who was the Pack‘s starting shortstop last season, allowed just six hits to improve to 8-3 on the season. Three double plays over the final five innings also got him out of any possible trouble in the late innings.
“I had control of all my pitches,” said Shipley, who lowered his earned run average this season to 2.07 through 13 starts. “I just kept telling myself to stay relaxed and just make my pitches. I knew if I could just place my pitches where I wanted that I wouldn’t have much trouble.”
The victory put the Wolf Pack in a tie for first place in the Western Athletic Conference with Hawaii at 8-5 (28-21 overall).
“That was a championship effort on his part,” said Pack coach Gary Powers, whose club also clinched a winning record in the regular season with five games left. “I told him before the game, ’You have to set the tone out there.’ He just looked at me and said, ‘Don’t worry. I got it. No problem.’”
The only thing resembling a problem that Shipley experienced took place in the second inning when Ricky Acosta drove home Michael Gerlach with a two-out single to give San Jose State a brief 1-0 lead. Shipley also allowed a leadoff single and a two-out walk in the third before escaping harm.
“For the most part I stayed calm out there the whole game,” Shipley said. “Other than that second inning, I didn’t have a lot of problems.”
Shipley got the Spartans to bounce into rally-killing double plays in the fifth, eighth and ninth innings. Each double play was started by second baseman Joe Kohan with shortstop Kyle Hunt serving as the middle man.
“That team (San Jose State) is very scrappy,” said Shipley of the Spartans (21-23, 5-8). “They aren’t going to strike out a lot. So the key is to get them to hit the ball on the ground.”
Shipley, who fanned three and walked four, threw 77 of his 120 pitches for strikes.
“Those double plays are what allowed him to stay in the game,” Powers said.
He can also thank Hunt and Kohan. The Pack now leads the WAC and is second in the nation with 59 double plays.
“Those two guys are great,” said Shipley of Kohan and Hunt. “I know because I’ve worked with both of them on the infield. I know with those guys all I need to do is get a ground ball and they will turn it.”
“We just always tell him, ‘Put the ball on the carpet,’” Hunt said. ‘We’ll take care of it.’ Joe and I have great chemistry out there. He knows where to feed me the ball and I know where to feed him the ball. We’ve bonded out there pretty well.”
It was Hunt’s bat that gave Shipley some breathing room. The freshman shortstop drove in the Pack’s second run in a two-run second inning for a 2-1 lead and his two-out double to right field gave the Pack a 3-1 lead in the seventh.
“That second (RBI) was huge for us,” Hunt said. “It gave us some comfort there. I was just happy we scored some runs for him (Shipley).”
Brooks Klein doubled home Brett Jones to tie the game in the second before Hunt singled home Klein for the 2-1 lead. Jay Anderson tripled and Jamison Rowe doubled in the eighth for the Pack’s fourth and final run.
Powers, who watched his bullpen blow a six-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning in a 9-8 win over UC Davis on Tuesday, was happy to see Shipley go the distance. It was just the Pack’s second complete game this season.
“He certainly wasn’t going to let us take him out,” smiled Powers. “And we didn’t want to take him out. He threw a lot of strikes and got big ground balls when he had to.”
The Wolf Pack and Spartans will continue their three-game series at Peccole on Saturday (1 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.).