Broncs break out bats in MAAC opener

Sophomore infielder Kyle Johnson went 2-for-3 at the plate with five RBI in the 9-3 victory over Iona on March 31. Johnson leads Rider in RBI and steals with 11 and five, respectively, and is second on the team in runs scored with 14.

By Rob Rose 

The baseball team won its first game in MAAC play behind big days at the plate from two infielders and a quality start on the mound. The Broncs split a doubleheader with Iona on March 31, winning game one, 9-3, and losing the other, 12-0. 

The first game of the series was scheduled to begin on March 30 before the doubleheader the following day, but the matchup was postponed due to weather. 

Sophomore Pete Soporowski started for Rider and entered the game with a 1-2 record and an ERA of 4.61. Soporowski was solid for the Broncs, keeping the Gaels off the scoreboard by getting timely outs and stranding runners on base. 

Soporowski got the win in game one after pitching six scoreless innings with five hits allowed and five strikeouts.

“Pete was really good for us,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “Pete has been giving us good outings. He always gives us a chance when he goes out there.” 

In the bottom of the third, with the game tied at zero, freshman infielder Jake Barbiere laid down a bunt to start the inning. Senior infielder Jake Bender followed with a double, and the Broncs quickly had runners in scoring position. 

Junior first baseman Riley Mihalik was able to pull a ground ball to second base for an RBI groundout, giving Rider a 1-0 lead. 

On deck was sophomore infielder Kyle Johnson, whom Davis switched from second base to shortstop prior to the game. Junior infielder Richie Tecco had been manning the shortstop position for the first 20 games of this season but after his 15 errors, a change was made. 

Johnson delivered a sacrifice fly to center field, scoring Bender and increasing the Broncs’ advantage to two runs. 

Two innings later, in the bottom of the fifth, Rider added another two runs from Mihalik and Johnson. Senior outfielder Christian Estevez led off the frame with a base hit, and Barbiere followed with a single of his own. 

After a fielder’s choice by Bender forced Estevez out at third, Mihalik stepped up to the plate. The power-hitting lefty smacked an RBI single to center field, and Barbiere scored from second. 

Johnson delivered his own RBI single to right field bringing in Bender and giving the Broncs a 4-0 lead. 

“We swung the bat consistently in game one,” said Davis. “Their pitcher is good. He throws strikes, and he beat us last year in the MAAC Tournament. We were able to put the bat on the ball and find some holes.”

In the top of the seventh, junior Jordan Silverman relieved Soporowski. The sidearm-throwing left-hander tossed three innings out of the bullpen, earning a three-inning save despite the large advantage for Rider. Silverman allowed three runs, only one earned: a solo home run. 

Mihalik and Johnson weren’t done yet. The pair was part of another two-run inning in the bottom of the seventh. Bender led off the frame with a single before advancing to third on a base hit by Mihalik. 

Iona’s starter Joe DeRosa was then pulled from the game. Johnson stepped up with runners on the corners and drove a pitch to center field for a sacrifice fly, scoring Bender. 

After a walk to cleanup hitter and sophomore outfielder Joe Simone, junior catcher Brennan McAllister drove an RBI single to right field, scoring Mihalik. Through seven innings, the Broncs led, 6-2. 

Senior outfielder Dallas Clark entered the game for Estevez and led off the bottom of the eighth with a base hit. Mihalik reached on an infield single, his third hit of the game. Johnson smashed a double off the left field wall, allowing Clark and Mihalik to score. 

“The biggest reason Johnson had the day he had was, when he got up to the plate he looked a lot more relaxed,” said Simone. “He was focused on getting the runner in and helping the team win.”

Johnson finished the game 2-3 with five RBI, and Mihalik went 3-5 with two RBI and two runs scored. Simone added on to the Broncs’ lead with an RBI triple, scoring Johnson and securing the victory for the Broncs. 

The second half of the doubleheader was a seven-inning game. Getting the start for Rider was junior Zack Gakeler. The left-hander struggled out of the gate, allowing six runs in the first two frames. The Gaels’ offense and pitching had dramatically improved. 

“In game two, they punched us in the face right from the get-go, and we didn’t punch back,” said Davis. “They scored three runs with two outs. We never answered.”

Iona’s Schuyler Bates was dominant on the mound, throwing five and two-thirds scoreless innings and allowing only one hit. Schuyler entered the game with an 0-5 record on the season. 

The Broncs were outhit 15-1 by the Gaels. The lone hit of the game came on a single by senior outfielder Harrison McClure in the bottom of the sixth. 

The final game of the series was rescheduled for April 2 but was canceled due to weather. Rider’s record is now 6-16 overall, 1-1 in MAAC play. 

The Broncs’ next game is April 4 against La Salle at 3:30 before continuing conference play April 7 and 8 at Fairfield, last year’s MAAC regular-season champion. 

Follow Rob Rose on Twitter for the latest news on Rider Baseball.

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