By Brandon Scalea
The baseball team won the 24th annual Liberty Bell Classic, following an impressive 6-2 win over Villanova at Citizens Bank Park in Philadelphia.
The Wildcats (14-19, 2-3 Big East), five-time winners of this tournament, took a 2-0 lead in the second inning, sending Head Coach Barry Davis to the bullpen early.
Senior pitcher David Hafer pitched lights out in relief, going four and two-thirds while striking out a season-high seven batters for the win. Hafer, who is now 5-1 on the season, said he was fired up by the atmosphere of a major league ballpark.
“The mound itself was great,” he said. “The atmosphere was awesome, and it was just a great experience overall. We all wanted to play well in that ballpark, and I think it definitely inspired us.”
Senior All-MAAC first baseman Justin Thomas was a force at the plate, hitting a pair of doubles to spark the Broncs (16-17, 6-3 MAAC) to a come-from-behind victory. His biggest hit of the evening came with two outs in the top of the ninth, with Rider clinging to a 4-2 lead. He cracked a double in the gap and drove in two runs, giving the Broncs the separation they needed going into the bottom half of the ninth.
Thomas also believes his game was elevated by the atmosphere of the evening.
“I think everyone had a little more adrenaline going,” he said. “It was definitely a cool experience playing at the home of the Phillies.”
The Broncs jumped on top in the fourth inning after a pair of singles by senior infielder Mike Parsons and senior catcher Eric Strano. A sacrifice fly by junior outfielder Jordan Leinweber gave them a lead they would not give up.
Sophomore pitcher Josh Sharik also kept Villanova off the board, pitching two perfect innings and striking out five of the six batters he faced.
Hafer commented on the magnitude of this win for Rider baseball.
“This was a huge win for us,” said Hafer. “Villanova is always a tough program to beat, and we battled the whole game. Once we had the lead, we did a great job of not being complacent or letting up.”
The win was the 10th in 11 games for Rider, and the momentum carried into the next outing, this one on the road against Marist (11-18-1, 6-6 MAAC).
On April 18, the Broncs split a doubleheader with the Red Foxes, winning the first one 7-4, before dropping the second game 6-5.
In the first game, senior pitcher Zack Mawson improved to 3-2 on the season, going six strong innings with three earned runs and four K’s. Sharik made another relief appearance and once again went two shutout innings.
In the ninth, senior pitcher Eric Thomas picked up the save for his seventh of the year.
Though the Broncs were not as successful in the second game, several players shined on that day. Thomas had five hits on the afternoon, including another pair of doubles and two RBIs on the twin bill. Thomas feels that his hard work off the field is starting to pay off at the plate.
“I’m confident with everything I’ve put in up until this point,” he said. “Giving 100 percent at practice is important, and some luck never hurts. It feels good to get the hits when they matter most.”
Parsons recorded four hits, including a pair of RBI doubles. Senior third baseman Nick Richter also had two RBIs.
The next day, the Broncs lost their first MAAC series of the season, dropping the third game in another one-run game. It was the second straight game where the Broncs blew an early 4-0 lead.
Marist took a 7-6 lead in the seventh inning, all with two outs. It overcame a two-run deficit with a single, two walks and a bases-clearing double.
The Marist rally came after the Broncs broke a seventh inning tie on a clutch hit from sophomore catcher Lee Lipinski for a 6-4 lead.
Freshman pitcher Nick Margevicius went five and two-third innings in the no decision. He allowed two runs and kept Rider in the ballgame.
The Broncs only had eight hits on the afternoon, but Richter had two of them. He has been hot at the plate, with 10 hits in the last seven games. Junior outfielder James Locklear also shined in the loss, with a two-RBI performance.
On April 21, the Broncs hosted Lehigh (15-24, 9-7 Patriot League) in a game that went the distance.
In the bottom of the 10th inning, senior Eric Strano came through with one of the biggest hits of the season for the Broncs, an RBI single that scored Parsons for the win. Not only did he score the winning run, but Parsons started his 195th consecutive game, breaking a 19-year-old school record.
The Broncs had to stage a late comeback to send the game into extra innings. Trailing 6-5 in the ninth with two outs, Richter walked. Last year’s NCAA leader in stolen bases took matters into his hands, stealing on a pitch which Locklear drove for a base hit. Richter scored from first on the play.
Despite allowing 10 walks and committing two errors, Rider’s offense kept them in the game.
Locklear had three hits and two RBIs and Richter reached base three times.
Senior closer Eric Thomas pitched a scoreless ninth inning for the win. He has not allowed an earned run this season.
The Broncs travel to Princeton on April 22 for a meeting with their Ivy League rival.