By Carolo Pascale
Despite the rest of Rider students being on spring break, the baseball team had no time off as they played seven games over break. The Broncs played three different teams over the nine-day span, starting with two games on March 11 against East Tennessee, then two games on March 15 and 16 against then No. 17 ranked Virginia before finishing with a three-game series against VMI on March 18-20.
Battling over the break
The start of baseball’s spring break began against East Tennessee on March 11 with a doubleheader in which the Broncs lost both games, losing 2-1 and 12-0 respectively.
The first game saw a great performance from graduate student pitcher Joe Papeo. He pitched 7.1 innings, recorded six strikeouts and only allowed two hits.
On March 15 and 16, the Broncs took on then No. 17 ranked Virginia in a difficult two-game, midweek series. Virginia handled the Broncs easily, defeating them in both games with final scores of 14-4 and 12-3.
To face off against a top 20 team gave the Broncs a look at how some of the top teams in the country play. They got a taste of it last year when they went to the NCAA Tournament, but this seemed to be a reminder for them of how those teams play and compete.
“We got a good idea for this last year in the regional against LA Tech and Alabama, so this year we just wanted to go out and compete,” said redshirt senior infielder Jake Barbiere. “They are a great team, so being able to go out and play two against that type of competition is only going to make us better.”
The Broncs were able to compete in the series despite the scores. Rider registered 13 hits over the two games and carried the hitting into its next series against VMI.
The hitting was excellent in the series versus VMI like it has been most of the year. Barbiere led the team throughout the three-game series with seven hits over the three days of games.
Among all three games, the Broncs used 10 different pitchers, with graduate student pitcher Cal Stalzer recording two saves.
The Broncs swept VMI, winning all three games and securing the team’s first series sweep of the year.
‘A lot of ups and downs’
Barbiere is in the midst of the best hitting season of his collegiate career so far, hitting a .313 average this season, which is good for 14th in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC).
“At this point in my career I’ve learned baseball is a game with a lot of ups and downs,” said Barbiere. “I put in a lot of time this winter in preparation for the spring and I try to just go out and have fun once the game starts knowing I’ve put in the work.”
The hitting as a whole has been impressive so far this year, with the Broncs hitting .247 average as a team. They sit in fourth compared to the other teams in the conference. Barbiere credits the work the team has put in as well as how Assistant Coach Lee Lipinski has worked with hitters this year.
“I think that it just shows how much work everyone put in over the break and during the pre-season,” said Barbiere. “The team has a lot of older guys, so as everyone has matured and learned about the type of hitter they are, it starts to show results on the field. Coach Lipinski has also done a great job working with all the hitters during practices as well.”
Something that hasn’t been as solid is pitching, which has been fairly inconsistent throughout the season. There have been flashes of greatness like Papeo’s strong performance versus East Tennessee. But even he showed some inconsistency when he allowed nine runs on nine hits in just two innings in the opening game in the VMI series.
“We have not been consistent. It is an area of concern,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “We are hoping to get Dylan Heine back on the mound soon to add some needed depth. Again, it is a process. The big games are waiting.”
Stalzer has been one of the best points of consistency this season, being the team’s leader in saves so far with three.“The biggest thing is my mentality when I am called upon to pitch,” said Stalzer. “I have a lot of faith in the guys behind me to make plays when batters put the ball in play. I try to go at hitters as best as I can when we have the lead and limit free bases.”
Finally returning home
Just like the rest of the season, every single game during spring break was on the road. That much travel can be difficult for players and for teams to try and get into a rhythm, and the Broncs are no different.
“It has been difficult for us, especially on this longer road trip. Being on the road can take a toll mentally and physically, but we’ve shown a ton of resolve,” said Stalzer.
The Broncs were traveling all over the place over break, going from Tennessee to Virginia. Playing on the road has been difficult for the team, but Barbiere said that it’s good for the team to travel despite it being challenging.
“For myself and a lot of the older guys on the team, we have done this before, so we know what to expect and how to handle the long bus trips and nights in hotels,” said Barbiere. “For the younger guys, it’s good for them to get used to traveling like this at the beginning of the year and will hopefully help the whole team throughout the season. Playing in new places and at new fields every week at the beginning of the year will make it easier to do so during conference play.”
The Broncs finally returned home on March 22 and took on in-state foe Rutgers. The Broncs fell to the Scarlet Knights 5-2. The Broncs played a good game despite losing, with eight players registering at least a hit.
The Broncs will now play their first series of MAAC play games when they go back on the road to take on Iona. The first game of the series is on March 25, with the first pitch scheduled for 3 p.m.