Welcome to The Doghouse, a weekly column recapping Union University sports action from the weekend.
Classes resumed at Union this week, and the weekend was full of sports for the students to enjoy. Saturday, the women’s and men’s basketball teams beat West Georgia in front of an electric home crowd. Baseball traveled to Ouachita Baptist and went 3-0, while softball played in the Southern Softball Showdown in Columbus, Georgia and went 3-1.
At Saturday’s basketball games, the first 500 fans received a free “Buster the Bulldog” bobble head. This promotion drew a large crowd and the players used the energy in Fred DeLay Gymnasium to their advantage.
Since joining the Gulf South Conference in 2012, the Lady Bulldogs have been in the top three of the regular season standings every year, but winning is sparser this year.
“The season isn’t exactly going as everyone would have hoped,” forward Sara Lytle said. “Personally, losing is just another way I can honor Christ. In the past, God has given me the opportunity to praise him in the highs and now he has given me the opportunity to praise him while I’m in a low. Both are blessings.”
Coming off a 74-71 win over West Alabama on Thursday, Union was looking to continue their win streak on Saturday. They opened the day with a 6-3 run and led West Georgia 13-11 at the end of the first quarter.
Julianne Bayer answered with a three to give the West Georgia Wolves their only lead of the game at 14-13. After four threes from the Lady Bulldogs and a competitive second quarter, Union went into the locker room with a 27-21 lead.
The Lady Bulldogs dominated the third quarter, starting with back-to-back baskets from Jada Smith. Later, Astrid Huttemann hit back-to-back threes and Tiffany Rechis made all three free throws off a foul from behind the arc. Union led 48-34 at the end of the quarter. In the final period, Union continued to have success with three pointers and went on to win 63-45.
“I think we came together because we were very confident in what we had to do,” Lytle said. “Coach put in a zone [defense] and we worked our tails off for three days to get it right. Our defense became our foundation.”
Though Lytle was quiet in the game, she contributed from the sideline.
“No matter how a game goes, I always try to have the same reaction,” Lytle said. “I didn’t play too much against West Georgia, but Astrid [Huttemann] stepped up and had a heck of a game. I was able to cheer my heart out on the bench.”
Huttemann definitely did step up, leading the Lady Bulldogs with 19 points and 10 rebounds. She made five of nine three point attempts and was the JEA Player of the Game. Union shot 40 percent from the field and 92 percent from the foul line, while West Georgia shot 25 percent and made 77 percent of free throws.
In his postgame interview with play-by-play announcer Steve Beverly, Union head coach Mark Campbell said, “We control us. No teams control us. I feel like we’re coming together at the right time.”
The Lady Bulldogs improved to 12-10 overall and 7-9 in conference.
For the men’s basketball team, Saturday’s game was an overtime thriller in which the Bulldogs edged the Wolves 94-89.
The game was a nail biter from the start, with Stephaun Branch making a three within the first ten seconds and Union responding with a 7-2 run. The teams traded leads the entire first half. To end the period, Branch made a three to tie the game at 41 and then Charlie Wilson sank a buzzer-beating layup to give Union a 43-41 halftime advantage.
The largest lead of the game came late in the second half, when West Georgia posted a 6-0 run to go ahead 69-63. The teams continued to trade leads as tensions rose. This tension seeped out of the interactions between Branch and Union’s Ashanti Day. The two played a very physical game, with Day getting called with an intentional foul at one point and later fouling out.
Branch’s emotions hit a boiling point under four minutes to play. After making a layup, he yelled in Day’s face and received a technical foul. The dramatic scene and the moments to follow created a momentum swing for Union. With the crowd on their feet, Tray Boyd capitalized on the penalty, making both free throws and a three. Union continued to use the volume of the crowd to power their aggressiveness.
With less than 30 seconds remaining in regulation, and the game tied at 80, Union and West Georgia each had late opportunities but could not convert.
In overtime, Branch added a seventh three-pointer to his noteworthy outing, finishing with a game leading 37 points. Under a minute, Union had two defensive stops, a Boyd three, a Jarad Scott rebound, and two KC Goodwin free throws to go ahead 92-87. Each team scored two more points to reach the final score of 94-89.
As the players lined up to shake hands, West Georgia’s Ivan Saicic received a technical foul for confronting an official.
In the game, there were 14 ties and 13 lead changes. The Bulldogs shot 43 percent from the field and 94 percent from the foul line, while the Wolves shot 42 percent and made 77 percent of free throws.
Boyd, a freshman, was the JEA Player of the Game with 23 points.
“Being a Bulldog has been great,” Boyd said. “[Head Coach David Niven] wants his players to be good in the classroom and spiritually, and representing a school and coach with that mindset is incredible.”
It was a team effort for Union, as five Bulldogs joined Boyd in reaching double figures, including Wilson, who scored 17 and added 10 rebounds.
Boyd said, “[I hope we] keep winning and become closer as a team. We are taking it one game at a time and doing it together.
Union is now 13-9 overall and 8-8 in conference.
Union opened their baseball season with a series sweep at Ouachita Baptist. The games had final scores of 7-4, 5-2, and 9-3.
In game one, Union scored first with a three-run second inning. Committing four errors in the game, the Bulldogs had to rely on their bats to win. Austin Orr had three RBI’s and Hayden Lewis had a two run homer in the sixth. JR Miller pitched five innings with as many strike outs and zero earned runs. He left the game with Union leading 4-3, setting up Austin Kitterman for the four inning save.
In Saturday’s second game, OBU scored first off a two RBI triple from Ty Owens. Union answered with a three-run third and later Orr scored twice. Teddy Christie earned the win after going six innings and throwing nine strikeouts. Cooper Bullough recorded the three out save for the Bulldogs.
Sunday, Union struck early with a bases loaded walk from Zach Phillips that scored Dylan Moore in the top of the first. OBU evened the score in the bottom, but only temporarily, as Ryne Roper hit a solo home run in the top of the second. Union continued to lead the rest of the game, with grounders and singles paving the way to a 5-1 lead. Nolen Milton homered in the fourth and Moore had a two RBI single in the fifth, making it 8-1. OBU added two unearned runs to their total before Milton hit a second home run in the eighth to close out the weekend.
Marty Coursey earned the win for Union after pitching for six innings, letting in just one earned run, and throwing seven strikeouts. Skyler Harrison was the relief, throwing five strikeouts in three innings pitched.
The Bulldogs are 3-0 on the season.
On their opening day, Union softball went 1-1, losing to Columbus State 10-2 and defeating Montevallo 8-0. Both games ended in a six inning mercy rule.
In the first game, Columbus State scored early, with three runs before Union made an out. It was 4-0 after one inning. Union cut the score to 4-2 with a two RBI single from Haley Barnette in the third. The Cougars continued to score, including a four-run sixth, leading to the mercy rule finish.
Hannah Ridolfi took the loss after pitching five innings and giving up seven runs on eight hits.
Union improved in game two, starting with a two-run homer from Ashley Scott in the third. Rachel Ridolfi had an RBI single in the fourth and later stole home to put her team up 4-0. In the fifth, Hannah Ridolfi scored on an illegal pitch and Gabby Morris singled in Paige Robertson to make the score 6-0. In the sixth, LaDesha Nelson scored on an error and Hannah Ridolfi hit an RBI single to close out the mercy rule finish.
Morris earned the win, as she pitched five shutout innings, allowing just one hit with five walks and four strikeouts. Hannah Ridolfi pitched relief in the final inning.
On Sunday, the Lady Bulldogs went 2-0, defeating Flagler 10-1 and Lynn 2-0.
In the first game, Emily Bennett opened the game with a triple. She went on to score on a ground out from Scott. Rachel Ridolfi doubled to center later in the inning to score two runs and scored off a Morris homer to make it 5-0. Flagler’s lone run came in the second on a triple to right. Union had a five-run third, built upon walks and singles, and Scott scored on an error for the final run.
Hannah Ridolfi pitched all five innings and allowed just one run on four hits.
In the second game, Morris went 3-for-3 in at bats and had one RBI in the second. In the fifth, Nelson scored on an error for the only other run of the game.
Morris started at pitcher, but just went one inning after allowing two hits and two walks. Parker Davis came in for four innings of relief, giving up four hits with three strikeouts. Hannah Ridolfi earned the win after going two innings and allowing just one hit with three strikeouts.
The Lady Bulldogs are 3-1 on the season.
In the next week, baseball hosts LeMoyne-Owen on Tuesday, while women’s and men’s basketball travel to Valdosta State on Thursday. Softball hosts Maryville University with one game Friday and one Saturday, and also Tusculum College in the same stretch. Saturday will include a baseball doubleheader as Union hosts Maryville University. In addition, women’s and men’s basketball travel to West Florida on Saturday.