By Carlos Toro
The baseball team hosted conference rival Iona on April 25 and 26 and earned a three-game sweep, moving into sole possession of first place in the MAAC.
Rider’s success came behind solid outings from starters Zach Mawson, Nick Margevicius and Kurt Sowa. None of the starters allowed an earned run all weekend.
The Broncs’ explosive offense was on display in the first game of the doubleheader on Saturday, with six of their seven runs scored in the sixth and seventh innings. Senior catcher Eric Strano, the designated hitter for the game, hit a bases-clearing triple in the sixth to push Rider’s lead to 4-0. Iona (12-29, 7-11 MAAC) never really got into an offensive rhythm against Mawson, who struck out six and allowed only two hits in six innings, as it eventually lost the game 7-0.
In the second game, Rider (20-17, 9-3 MAAC) had to face Iona’s strikeout leader, Mariano Rivera III, son of the former Yankees closer and all-time Major League saves leader. Despite not getting a hit in the first five innings, Rider took advantage of Iona’s defensive mistakes to score two runs off Rivera in the sixth, before scoring a third.
The second game had little scoring but Rider took advantage of its chances. Senior Justin Thomas’ lone RBI came on a sacrifice fly to give Rider the lead, and he eventually broke Rivera’s no-hitter in the sixth inning with a double to left field.
Senior closer Eric Thomas, who has yet to allow an earned run all year, got the save for the Broncs as they beat the Gaels 3-1 to get the doubleheader sweep.
On April 26, Sowa had a fantastic showing, striking out eight batters in seven innings. Sowa believed his command was there against Iona.
“I was able to throw my offspeed for strikes,” said Sowa, “especially my changeup and cutter early in the count to set up my fastball and curveball.”
On the offensive side, Thomas once again jumpstarted Rider’s scoring. He pushed senior third baseman Nick Richter home in the first inning with a single to right field after Richter led the inning with a double.
“We knew coming in that Iona’s pitchers were second [in the MAAC] in ERA,” Richter said. “Our goal was to just have good at-bats and try to hit the ball hard. I think we did a good job against them.”
The Broncs scored four runs in the first two innings, and junior James Locklear hit an RBI single in the fourth to move to a 5-0 lead. Locklear finished with two hits in the game. Fazio doubled in the fifth inning, advanced to third on a fly out and scored on a sacrifice bunt by Strano. Fazio had another two-hit day as the series sweep was accomplished, winning the third game 6-1.
On April 28, Rider hosted St. Joseph’s (16-21, 6-8 Atlantic 10) in the annual Code Cranberry game.
The Broncs wasted no time in getting on the board, as they took a 4-0 lead in the first inning thanks to an RBI single by sophomore first baseman Tyler Kaiser. He was brought home by a double from Fazio, who later scored on another RBI double from senior infielder Mike Parsons.
However, the Hawks answered back in the top of the second, with three runs of their own off freshman pitcher Paul Sparano.
Leading 4-3, the Broncs added some insurance in the bottom of the fourth on a huge two-out single from Richter.
It would remain a two -run game heading into the ninth, but Thomas struck out the side to record another save and another perfect inning.
The Broncs have won 16 of their last 19 games, and Sowa hopes this momentum can carry them to their first MAAC Title since 2010.
“This team is special,” said Sowa. “We have an identity, and we have guys that bring a lot of energy every day. We know that we can win every game, and that confidence is what makes this team so much fun to play with.”