By Josh Veltrie
When classes were ending in the beginning of May and summer began for most students, the baseball team at Rider caught fire at the right time. The Broncs won 14 of the final 17 regular season games, giving Rider the third seed in the MAAC Tournament. The momentum from the end of the regular season carried over to the postseason as the Broncs won the MAAC Championship for the second time in three years.
The Broncs faced Marist, the two seed, in the first game of the four-team, double-elimination tournament, beating the Red Foxes 10-7. Rider went on to defeat Canisius twice to be crowned conference champions. Canisius, the one seed in the tournament, lost to Rider 10-5 in the first game before falling 4-2 in the final game of the tournament.
The clinching win was Rider’s 10th in a row and the 36th of the season, a new Rider record for wins in a season. It also gave the Broncs a berth into the NCAA Tournament.
“We played decent for most of the season,” Head Coach Barry Davis said. “We lost some games early we probably should have won and that put us in a tough position late in the season. We were able to win eight of our last nine conference games to give us some momentum going into the postseason.”
Nick Wojnowski, who graduated in May, carried the Broncs in the first postseason game against Marist, hitting two home runs in the 10-7 win. Junior Brandon Cotton had three hits and two RBIs while senior Mike Thomas pitched into the eighth inning to pick up the win, his ninth of the season.
In its first matchup with Canisius, sophomore Mike Murphy threw seven solid innings, giving up only two runs while striking out seven. Senior A.J. Albee had three hits in the game including a three run home-run. Fellow senior Mason Heyne also had a solid game with two hits, two walks and an RBI in the 10-5 victory.
Rider only managed three hits in its clinching 4-2 victory over Canisius, but the walks were the difference in the game with the Broncs drawing 15 base on balls. Junior Patrick Devlin threw a gem for Rider, giving up two runs in eight innings while striking out a season-high seven batters. Sophomore Tyler Smith came in to pitch the ninth and picked up the save for the Broncs, his ninth of the season.
Albee was named MVP of the MAAC Tournament, compiling six runs, five hits and four RBIs in the three games.
The Broncs got a tough draw in the NCAA Tournament, going into the NCAA Austin Regional. The first game was against second-ranked Texas. Rider lost the game 11-0, but all of the runs Texas scored were with two outs.
“I thought we played well against Texas. We could’ve made a couple more plays defensively, but they were the better team,” Davis said.
Against 17th-ranked Rice in Rider’s next game, the Broncs were simply overmatched, losing 19-1, leaving Rider with a 36-23 record on the season.
The Broncs saw a lot of its players win individual accolades throughout the season, highlighted by Albee being named Rider Athlete of the Year and to the NCAA Austin Regional All-Tournament Team. Thomas was named MAAC Pitcher of the Year and the New Jersey Division I Pitcher of the Year. He also was named to the 2010 ABCA/Rawlings All-East Region First Team and his name will now appear on the All-America ballot. Thomas had a 9-3 record with an earned run average of 4.14.
Rider saw six players graduate in May but has a lot of key players returning, including a handful of players such as Thomas and Albee who won the MAAC Championship three years ago only to see the team falter in the following postseason.
“The pressure isn’t winning. It is preparing and focusing; if you are prepared and focused you can just go out and play and have fun,” Davis said. “It’s easy getting to the top. It’s hard as heck to stay there.”