By Ryan Connelly and Carlos Toro
After committing a season-high six errors against Wagner, the baseball team rebounded in dramatic fashion against then-conference leaders Niagara.
The Broncs swept a three-game series at home against Niagara on April 14 and 15 to move up to second place in the MAAC.
First baseman Jake Bender said this past series was an important one for the team to win. Rider came into this series in fifth place in the conference standings, but now sit in second after sweeping the Purple Eagles.
“We were focused throughout the week at practice because we knew we needed three wins to get us back into a good place in the standings,” Bender said. “This weekend we were all locked in at the plate and we had some good team at-bats.”
The first game of the series against Niagara was a low-scoring affair, with Rider freshman starting pitcher Pete Soporowski going eight strong innings while allowing a single run.
Trailing 1-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning, senior outfielder Dalton Mayberry came in to pinch hit and hit a towering two-run home run to right field, giving the Broncs the series-opening win.
In the second game, the first game of an April 14 doubleheader, runs were also at a premium.
Both teams scored one run in the fourth inning, and it wasn’t until the sixth inning that Rider scored again.
With running at first base, sophomore shortstop Richie Tecco hit a deep line drive to left field that landed on the warning track.
The play was a hit-and-run, so Bender scored from first base to give Rider a 2-1 lead.
That second run was all Rider needed, as junior starting pitcher Nick Margevicius pitched a complete game, not allowing an earned run in seven innings, striking out eight batters in the second win of the series.
As Niagara tried to salvage the series with at least one win, the Purple Eagles’ offense fared better than in the first two games.
Some timely hitting and home runs from catcher Joel Brophy and outfielder Trevor McCauley had Niagara scoring runs in the second, third, fifth, sixth and eighth innings.
Rider scored three runs early in the game, but wasn’t able to take advantage of numerous chances with runners in scoring position. Trailing 5-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, it took a solo home run from senior catcher Lee Lipinksi, who couldn’t record a hit in his first eight at-bats in the series, for the Broncs offense to awaken.
Rider scored once again in the bottom of the ninth inning to tie the game 5-5 and send the third game into extra innings.
The 10th and 11th innings went by without a run thanks to senior reliever Josh Sharik, who got the win in the final game and allowed one hit in the 3.1 innings pitched.
After Sharik held Niagara scoreless in the 12th inning, Rider took advantage with two hits to start off the bottom half of the inning.
Niagara then decided to sub out left fielder Darian Blanks and brought in a fifth infielder, leaving the outfield to be covered by two players.
The Purple Eagles intentionally walked Mayberry to load the bases and Bender eventually got the walk-off hit in right field to seal the 6-5 win.
Before the Broncs swept Niagara, Wagner defeated Rider 14-7 on April 12 after Rider’s defense did not play well, as they committed six errors, had five batters walk and had two balks.
Head Coach Barry Davis was not pleased with the performance.
“This was probably the worst defensive game we’ve had all season. It’s unacceptable,” he said.
In the beginning of the game, the Seahawks scored off a balk by junior pitcher Anthony Arneth who got his first start of the season. Then Kyle Cala from Wagner hit an RBI single, putting his team in front 2-0.
Rider then retaliated in the bottom of the first with an RBI double from senior third baseman Mike Volaski and an RBI single from sophomore designated hitter Riley Mihalik, making the score 3-2 Broncs.
Wagner then scored two runs in the second. After the third inning, where the Broncs scored three runs, they went on a cold streak and did not score again until the 9th inning from a home run off Mihalik.
Rider was still within striking distance late in the game. Leading 9-6 at the top half of the eighth inning, Wagner scored five runs to squash any hopes for a Rider comeback.
Some notable players for the Seahawks were Anthony Godino who went 4-5 at the plate with two RBIs and Sean Mazzio who went 2-4. For the Broncs, some notable players were Tyler Kaiser who went 2-2 and Riley Mihalik who had a home run.
The success continued on April 18 when Margevicius was awarded MAAC Pitcher of the Week and College Sports Madness MAAC Player of the Week. Soporowski was also awarded MAAC Rookie of the Week.
Rider starts a five-game road trip with a non-conference game at Princeton on April 19. The Broncs will then travel to Canisius for a three-game series from April 22-23 and conclude the trip with an April 25 matchup against Lafayette.
Rider’s next home conference series will be against Manhattan from April 29-30.