By Luke Lombardi
Every team defending a championship wants to repeat, and the Rider Broncs baseball team set out on that mission on Feb. 18 and 19, starting the 2022 campaign 3-0.
Coming into the season, Head Coach Barry Davis knew it would be a tough task to win the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) again.
He said, “I think our goal is pretty clear. Get back in the tournament and play well during the regular season, you know, get into the tournament and get the highest seed we possibly can, preferably the one or two, which is going to be difficult because there’s a really strong league this year.”
Rider wasn’t supposed to win the MAAC to begin with last year. After a walk-off single in the semi-final matchup, Rider beat the overwhelming favorite for the MAAC Champioship in the Fairfield Stags to secure their spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Making the regionals was a huge deal for the returning players.
Junior infielder John Volpe said, “As a player, it definitely helped me because we got to see some of the top competition like [Louisiana] Tech and Alabama and just watching them warm-up and play in-game, it was cool to know that we could compete with them, first of all, and second of all, we are just as good as them.”
The team started their season with a bang, defeating Georgetown 6-4 on Feb. 18. The Broncs had taken an early 4-1 lead before allowing Georgetown to tie it in the seventh inning. Rider left it until the last possible moment, as down to its potential last out, junior outfielder Scott Shaw hit a two-run home run to secure the first win of the season.
Later that day, the Broncs faced VCU. This game started the opposite of Rider’s first game, with the Rams jumping out to a 5-0 lead in the third inning, making the prospects of a victory for the Broncs very bleak. However, they didn’t let that stop them as they scored runs in four of the remaining six innings to go up 7-5 heading into the final frame.
The end of the game wasn’t easy for Rider. A lead-off triple followed by a single made the game 7-6 with no outs yet to have been recorded. From there, graduate student pitcher Cal Stalzer struck out two batters and forced the game-winning groundout to sweep the games on opening day.
Even though the Broncs picked up two wins, the team knew there is still much to improve upon if they want to repeat as MAAC champions this year.
“Anytime you win, you’re excited, you’re happy that you’re able to win games. We have plenty to work on, and I felt we played much better in the second game than we did the first game,” Davis said. “ We walked too many guys, we walked seven guys and hit two guys the first game. Overall, first time out [and] you win two games and could’ve easily lost two games. But, it’s the first day and you make a lot of small mistakes, and we’ll work on those and try to correct some of them.”
On Feb. 19, Rider looked to continue the momentum from the previous day. They started a game against Lafayette doing just that with junior outfielder Brendan O’Donnell hitting a three-run homer in the second. Lafayette responded back by scoring two runs of its own that same inning.
Shaw came to the rescue yet again hitting his second home run of the weekend to put the Broncs on top 4-2. Two more runs were added in the ninth by both teams with Rider securing the 6-4 win and going undefeated the first week of the season.
The Broncs look to continue winning on Feb. 25 as they begin a three-game series against Miami University of Ohio.