By Brandon Scalea
Coming off an impressive non-conference stretch that included a series win over Georgia and a road win over Rutgers, the baseball team dropped two out of three in its first MAAC series of the season.
Rider took the first game against defending-champion Fairfield in walk-off fashion, thanks to a pinch-hit RBI single by junior second baseman Christian Estevez that landed fair down the left-field line.
However, the Broncs struggled to get their bats going in the next two games. They dropped the second game, 1-0, in extra innings, before losing 9-1 in game three. The Stags won the season series against Rider last year, as well.
Head Coach Barry Davis said Rider has a lot of work to do in the batter’s box.
“This was not a very good weekend for us offensively,” he said. “We need to bounce back from it. But we just have to keep putting the ball in play and maybe keep it out of the air a little more. But, some days, this happens and you just have to work on those adjustments.”
On March 24, Rider trailed early, but used five unanswered runs to pick up the win. Freshman pitcher Pete Soporowski was shaky, leaving the home Broncs behind, 5-1, after four and a half innings. He finished with seven innings pitched, six strikeouts and five earned runs. Senior pitcher Josh Sharik relieved Soporowski and pitched two innings of scoreless baseball to keep Rider in the game.
Trailing by 4 in the bottom of the fifth, freshman infielder Kyle Johnson got the Broncs going with a two-out, two-run bomb that towered into the trees in left-center field. The blast made the score 5-3.
“Johnson’s homerun was big for us,” Davis said. “To be down by four isn’t easy, but that jump-started a rally for us.”
Fairfield’s pitching staff was able to keep Rider off the base paths the next two innings, but the Broncs came through to tie it in the bottom of the eighth. With two on and two out, senior first baseman Tyler Kaiser ripped a triple down the right-field line, clearing the bases.
With the game knotted at five in the bottom of the ninth, senior shortstop Jake Bender delivered a leadoff single to center field, before a sac bunt moved him into scoring position. Still with no outs, Estevez took the first pitch of his at-bat and gave the Broncs their second straight win.
Game two of the series was the first of a doubleheader on March 25. The game was scheduled to be seven innings, the usual for when a college baseball team plays two in one day. However, the teams seemed inclined to play regulation baseball, as the teams remained locked until the ninth inning. Neither team could score a run, until the Stags finally broke through in the top of the ninth.
Junior left-hander Nick Margevicius pitched a quality start for Rider, going eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits. His ERA for the season is only 1.69.
Unfortunately for him, Fairfield’s Gavin Wallace pitched even better. He went the full nine innings, allowed only five hits and struck out seven Broncs en route to the victory.
In the top of the ninth, junior pitcher Andrew Tumblety took the mound in relief for Rider. Fairfield’s Troy Scocca drilled a single to center field that brought home the eventual winning run.
Despite struggling the whole game, Rider threatened to tie it up in the bottom half of the ninth. But with runners in scoring position and two outs, a Kaiser line drive was caught on the run by the Stag right fielder.
In the rubber match of the series, not much went right for Rider. It was a manageable game for the Broncs heading into the bottom of the seventh, as they trailed, 5-1. But the Stags notched four more runs to open up a 9-1 lead that would remain the rest of the way.
Junior pitcher Paul Sparano earned the loss, despite just two earned runs. He was pulled after five innings.
Davis said pitching, which had been great the first two games, was an issue in game three.
“I thought we played fine in the field, but we had something like three passed balls and wild pitches, and that hurt us,” he said. “That sort of took the game from a competitive game to a not so competitive game. It didn’t leave us in a position where we could come back.”
The Broncs will return to action on March 29 when they face Delaware in the first round of the Liberty Bell Classic, of which Rider won in 2015 and played in the championship game last season.
That game was originally supposed to take place on March 28, but weather issues postponed the game.
The original schedule had the Broncs face Delaware State on March 29, but that game is now canceled.
The next conference series Rider will compete in is a three-game road series against Iona from April 1-2.