Published 10:28 pm Friday, February 14, 2014

 Tanner Hickers tied a career high with nine strikeouts against Northern Kentucky Friday night in Troy’s 7-0 season-opening win.

Tanner Hickers tied a career high with nine strikeouts against Northern Kentucky Friday night in Troy’s 7-0 season-opening win.

Hicks, McGowan, Skinner combine for 15 strikeouts, Troy picks up opening-night win

Troy’s Tanner Hicks used a dominating slider to baffle Northern Kentucky on opening night at Riddle-Pace Field. The Trojans picked up a 7-0 win over the Norse Friday night in Troy.

Hicks went seven innings and gave up just three hits while striking out nine. The game was the first opening day shutout since hanging an egg on Alabama State in 1999.

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Hicks said his fastball wasn’t getting the job done early, so he went to his breaking ball and found success.

“I wasn’t getting the fastball over the plate like I wanted,” Hicks said. “I went to the breaking ball early, and it worked well.

Troy relievers Jeremy McGowan and Marc Skinner picked up where Hicks left off and the trio picked up 15 strikeouts.

Head coach Bobby Pierce likes what he saw from all three of his pitchers.

“Tanner did what Tanner does,” said Pierce. “That was no surprise. The breaking stuff is always there for him, and that’s where he got the majority of the strikeouts. Jeremy and Marc came in and filled the strike zone up. I am real happy with all three of those guys tonight.”

The pitching trio handcuffed Northern Kentucky to just four hits, and stranded six Norse runners on base.

Hicks said the pitching staff feels they have a leg up on batters right now.

“All fall we have pitched against, what we feel is, one of the better offenses in the country,” said Hicks. “It is fun to go out and throw against a different color uniform, and I am proud of Jeremy and Marc.”

Troy picked up its first run of the night on a double by Garrett Pitts in the bottom of the third. Pitts roped a shot down the left field line that was misplayed by Northern Kentucky left fielder Ryan LeFevers. The bobble allowed Pitts to gallop all the way around for a headfirst slide to home.

David Hall went 3-for-3 in his return to the lineup, including a screaming, line drive home to left center in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Hall missed most of the 2013 season due to a foot injury, and loved being back in the mix Friday night.

“It felt great,” said Hall. “It has been a while since I have been out here. I have been waiting since last season to get back out here, and I’m glad I was able to contribute.”

Troy picked up another run in the sixth on a single up the middle from Kyle Brown, and plated four insurance runs on four hits in the eighth.

Troy led the nation in doubles during the 2013 season, and went right to work defending their title. Troy notched four doubles on the night, which is something Pierce likes to see.

“That’s what we try to do (hit doubles),” said Pierce. “I was happy to see us get a few off the bat, especially since we started so slow offensively. We came away with a homer and four doubles, so we will take that tonight and try to get better for tomorrow.”

Troy will send the 2013 Sun Belt Conference Pitcher of the Year Shane McCain to the hill in the first game of a Saturday double header. First pitch is set for 1 p.m.

Junior college transfer Cody Hughes will get the ball in the second half of the twin bill, while former Pike Liberal Arts standout Will Starling, fresh off of Tommy John surgery, will pitch Sunday for Troy.

The Trojans are 14-1 on opening weekend since 2010, which is something Pierce never gets tired of hearing.

“It is always great to start the season on opening day with a win,” said Pierce. “We just need to get better every day.”