By Luke Lombardi and Andrew Smolar
Every team wants to come out of the gate hot when conference play starts, and the Rider Broncs did just that as they swept Iona from March 25-27.
The first game was the closest by far. It started as an intense pitching duel with no runs being scored entering the fifth inning.
That when the Broncs struck, as sophomore designated hitter Brian Skettini scored on an error. The joy continued for Rider as junior center fielder John Volpe scored on a passed ball and junior first baseman Luke Lesch hit in the third run making it 3-0 Broncs.
Only scoring one earned run and winning 3-1 was a unique experience for senior second baseman Jake Barbiere.
“It’s definitely a different way to win a game,” said Barbiere. “We capitalized on their mistakes. There’s a lot of different areas that go into winning a baseball game.”
Iona scored one run in the ninth, but it did not matter, as the game ended 3-1.
Graduate student pitcher Joe Papeo had a gem of a start as he pitched eight innings of no-run ball before allowing a runner on to start the ninth that scored.
Head Coach Barry Davis was skeptical about letting Papeo start the ninth but eventually gave in.
“Initially, we decided to go with [graduate student closer Cal] Stalzer right away, but then, you know, Joe [Papeo] wanted to get the complete-game shutout,” said Davis. “He felt good, so I told him we’d go batter-to-batter and he threw one pitch and the kid got a hit so we took him out.”
The Broncs earned their second-consecutive win over Iona on March 26 with a resounding 15-3 victory.
Rider’s offense scored runs in six out of nine innings including four in the first and six in the seventh en route to the blowout victory.
It was a dominant game for junior infielder Volpe who went 3-5 batting with two RBIs, drew two walks and also had two stolen bases.
“Having a big game is just part of baseball, that game hits were just falling and our team has plenty of guys that can have huge games,” Volpe said.
Rider’s batters were especially patient as they drew an almost unheard-of 15 walks. After not drawing a single walk on March 25, Davis was encouraged by the patience despite a lack of strikes thrown by Iona’s pitchers.
“We always place an emphasis on patience,” said Davis. “Today Iona struggled throwing strikes but it happens. I’ve seen our guys do the exact thing over the years.”
Starter Frank Doelling pitched five innings of two-run ball. He then gave way to senior Kyle Smith who allowed just one run in the final four innings.
Rider completed the three-game sweep of the Gaels on March 27 with a convincing 8-1 victory. Davis was pleased to have finished the weekend clean.
“We are happy to have finished the weekend with three wins,” said Davis. “It’s a good start to a challenging conference regular season. It will only get more difficult.”
Rider’s offense scored in each of the first four innings of the game and never looked back. Junior Socrates Bardatsos and senior Alex Diamantis led the way offensively with two RBIs apiece.
The pitching was once again dominant for Rider as they were all series long, finishing the three games allowing just five runs.
Graduate student Vincent Vitacco had a strong start on March 27, pitching six innings and allowing just one run. From there, he gave way to junior Dylan Heine and senior Danny Kirwin who finished the final three innings without giving up a run.
On March 30, the Broncs secured another victory against nonconference opponent Lehigh, winning 3-0. Junior pitcher Kenny Quijano registered three strikeouts across 6.1 innings and allowed four hits.
Stalzer also registered his team leading fifth save of the season in the victory. It was his fourth save in the last four times he’s been on the mound.
The Broncs will next face St. John’s in a three game series, with the first game taking place on April 1 at 3 p.m.