By Cord Stasolla
The Rider baseball team won its third series of the year and its first MAAC series win, going 2-1 in a three-game series against Manhattan.
The Broncs followed it up with a win over Seton Hall on Tuesday but fell to Monmouth on Wednesday, both one-run games.
Last weekend, the team’s victories included a 6-3 win over Manhattan on Saturday before losing 14-5 in the second game of the doubleheader. The next day, Rider came charging back to defeat the Jaspers 10-9.
Rider (13-14 overall, 3-5 MAAC) was led by junior pitcher Mike Thomas in the first game, who went seven innings and struck out seven.
“I felt pretty good out there on Saturday,” Thomas said. “Manhattan is a very good hitting team so I was just trying to make my pitches and not give in to them. I feel like every Saturday it’s my job to go out there and give us a chance to win that first game [of the weekend series].”
The game was close until sophomore designated hitter Ryan Murphy hit a two-run home run, his first of the year, and freshman third baseman Adam Wayman brought in a run with a double, breaking a zero-all tie in the fourth inning. Murphy finished 1-3 with two RBIs and Wayman finished the day 2-4 with one RBI.
The Broncs added an additional run in the fifth inning on a sacrifice fly by senior left fielder Nick Wojnowski, who ended his day 1-2 with an RBI, which plated junior right fielder Karl Johnston. Cushioning the lead, the team added two more runs in the eighth inning on another double by Wayman, his second of the game, assisted by two Jasper errors.
To close the game, freshman pitcher Tyler Smith pitched the final two innings, surrendering just one hit while striking out two for his second save of the year.
“Both pitchers threw well today,” said Head Coach Barry Davis, referring to Thomas and Smith. “Combined, they only allowed three total runs.”
Rider’s relentless defense won the first game. However, Rider’s defense would falter in the second game of the day, scheduled for seven innings. The Jaspers scored six runs in the second, and four in the third after scoring one in the first. Manhattan scored at least one run in each of the first five innings, and its lead peaked at 14-0.
But when Manhattan failed to score, Rider did. The Broncs added two runs in the sixth on a sacrifice fly by Wojnowski that plated center fielder Brandon Cotton and on a single by shortstop Garret Rugg, which scored third baseman Mason Heyne. The Broncs added three runs in the seventh on a single by designated hitter Steve Gelella and on a two RBI single by first baseman Matt McCollum.
The big hits in the final two innings weren’t enough, however, and Manhattan won the game 14-5.
In Rider’s third game of the weekend, senior Garrett Rugg’s offensive contribution couldn’t have come at a better time. With two outs in the ninth inning and the game tied at nine, Rugg, in his only at bat of the day, hit a single that plated pinch hitter Ian Lindsay, giving the Broncs a 10-9 walk-off victory.
“Game-winning hit with two outs,” Davis said. “Enough said.”
The game, however, was not just capped off in a spectacular fashion, but Rider’s resilience helped it win in a come-back fashion as well. The team found itself down 8-3 entering the bottom half of the sixth inning. Its resilience, along with doubles by Wayman and junior Steve Galella, a triple by senior Eric Woodrow, and a sacrifice fly by sophomore Brandon Cotten, helped plate three runs in the sixth.
The Broncs added two more runs in the seventh when Wojnowski hit a two-run homerun with junior A.J. Albee on first base. Wojnowski was 2-4 and Albee was 4-5 on the day.
“Albee gave a solid performance,” Davis said. “He’s been playing really well lately.”
“Getting four hits in the last game of the series felt good. That was a big win for us,” Albee said. “Right now I just think I’m staying inside the ball and seeing it well. I feel my best when I’m hitting the ball back up the middle and driving it the other way and in the last couple games I was able to hit some balls hard to right center and back through the middle.”
With the game tied at eight, Manhattan scored a run in the top of the ninth to take a 9-8 lead. Two runs in the bottom of the inning, including Rugg’s game-winning RBI, gave Rider the win.
As the team looks forward, Davis says they have a long way to go in the season, with 15 games left in the MAAC. But as for now, it was nice to win a series against Manhattan.
“We have to keep working on getting better and playing good baseball,” he said. “[Sunday’s game] was a good step towards that.”
Rider built on its good weekend when it faced two non-conference opponents on Tuesday and Wednesday. Rider built on its good weekend in another come-from-behind victory against Seton Hall, in which the Broncs outscored Seton Hall 6-1 after the third inning.
Seton Hall’s lead was as high as 6-1 in the third, after they scored five runs in the top of that inning. Exhausted pitcher Chris Taylor was then taken out, and replaced by freshman Chris LeRoy. At that moment, LeRoy’s pitching kept Seton Hall frozen, and Rider’s offense exploded.
LeRoy pitched five and one-third scoreless innings, surrendering just two hits. Meanwhile, first baseman Steve Galella was going 2-4 with two RBIs, Heyne was going 2-5 with threee RBIs, designated hitter Ian Lindsay was going 1-4, hitting a two-run homerun, his first in college, that gave Rider a 7-6 lead, and shortstop John Ralston was going 3-4 with one RBI. All in all, Rider scored six unanswered runs through the eighth inning to take an 8-6 lead. Freshman closer Tyler Smith only allowed Seton Hall to score one run in the ninth for his third save of the year. Rider’s comeback victory marks its second in the last week.
The next day, Rider played away at Monmouth and in Davis’ six-year tenure at Rider, the team has never defeated them away. In the early part of the game, it looked like Rider could give Davis his first win over Monmouth, taking a 6-5 lead after four innings.
Mason Heyne was 2-5 on the day, hitting his 21st career homerun, 11th most in Rider’s history. With his two hits, Heyne reached the mark of 157 hits in his career, 35th most in Rider’s history, and he extended his hit streak to 11 games.
“As far as my hitting streak, I think it is all about seeing the ball and being able to put it in play and give myself a chance to get on base,” he explained. “I feel like I am seeing it pretty well right now, and then it just boils down to putting a good swing on the ball. Like I said earlier, I want the team to be successful, and I try my best to do whatever I can to help that happen.”
Despite good days at the plate for a handful of Rider hitters, and three Monmouth errors to Rider’s none, they couldn’t hold on to their slim lead, allowing Monmouth to score two runs in the seventh inning to take a 7-6 lead that Monmouth held to the end. The game was not completely lost, however. Rider battled until the end, and only lost by a single run to a team that last year won 32 games and reached the NCAA tournament.
The Broncs’ 3-2 week, including two big MAAC victories, is a stretch that they can build on. The team still has plenty of opportunity to win more games, with 15 MAAC games remaining on its schedule.
This weekend, Rider faces St. Peter’s in a three-game series beginning with a doubleheader on Saturday at noon followed by a game Sunday at noon in Jersey City.
By Cord Stasolla