By Tom Regan
With the team ready to take the field, the Broncs split the first two series of the season, picking up a win and a loss against Temple and the University of Massachusetts on Feb. 22-24 in Wilson, N.C.
Facing the Owls for the first two games on Feb. 22 and 23, the Broncs lost the first game by a score of 15-8, but recovered with a 7-2 victory in day two.
While the offensive output was there in game one, junior pitcher Kurt Sowa, who started the game, was touched up for seven runs in only two and a third innings. Five of the seven runs were unearned and came courtesy of a first-inning, two-out error that initiated an offensive eruption for Temple.
Despite the standout collegiate debut of freshman infielder Nick Kagel, who had three hits and three of the team’s eight RBIs, Rider was unable to suppress Temple’s offense. Temple scored at least one run in all but two innings as Rider errors made it difficult to keep the Owls off the board.
Kagel credited his success at the plate to a calm and focused mind, as well as the rigorous offseason training program.
“I just tried to be relaxed at the plate, even though it was my first college game,” Kagel said. “The workouts and training in the new indoor hitting facility prepared us physically.”
The Broncs quickly turned around their fortunes with an error-free game behind the pitching performance of junior Zach Mawson, who tossed six innings of one-hit baseall with five punch-outs en route to allowing only one Owl runner to cross home plate.
Temple senior pitcher Preston Hill held Rider’s offense in check for five innings, until the sixth inning, which saw Rider explode offensively. The inning saw big hits from junior shortstop Mike Parsons, who singled in two runs, and a bases-clearing triple by junior first baseman Justin Thomas, who led the Broncs that game with three RBIs.
Junior pitcher Eric Thomas tossed three innings of one-run ball with four strikeouts, closed out the game, earning the save.
Rider then set its focus on UMass on Feb. 24 in a double-header that featured strong pitching performances and less offense than the opening series.
The Broncs were able to secure a 5-1 victory in game one because of junior pitcher David Hafer’s six-inning, two-hit morning, in which he struck out six and gave up only one run. Rider was able to muster up steady production on offense with RBIs from senior center fielder Nick Crescenzo, Justin Thomas and sophomore infielder James Locklear to give Hafer the win.
Rider was not so fortunate in game two of the double header, as they committed two errors in the bottom of the ninth, giving UMass a 2-1 victory. Despite the seven-inning, one-run afternoon of senior pitcher Kyle Kennett, the Broncs were held to only one run from five total hits — two from Justin Thomas and one from Crescenzo, senior designated hitter Ken Kremer, and junior infielder Greg Fazio. However, the Broncs would leave a total 18 men on base between both games against the Minutemen.
Junior infielder Mike Parsons understood he and the offense struggled with consistency, but outside of the difficult game to open the season, the pitching staff did a solid job of keeping them in the game.
“Our pitching started off slow in the first game but they threw great in the three other games,” Parsons said.
Rider will travel to Lynchburg, Va., to play Liberty and Ball State Feb. 28 – March 2. Parsons believes that the team needs to make fewer mistakes in order to find success.
“We will be facing good competition in Ball State and Liberty this weekend,” Parsons said. “If we can eliminate some of the mistakes we made this weekend, we can come away with some wins against quality opponents.”