By Kim Leder
After starting the season losing seven of its first 11 games, the Rider baseball team has hit its stride just in time. MAAC play will begin this weekend. The Broncs have won six of their last seven games, including taking three out of four over the weekend against Maine (6-15).
Rider (10-8) will host Niagara (3-17) this weekend because of snow in western New York, but the Purple Eagles will be considered the home team and bat last in the series.
“These are the games that take you where you want to go,” said Head Coach Barry Davis.“They are important and it will be a great challenge for our team.”
Last Friday afternoon, the Broncs extended their winning streak to four games, edging Maine, 3-2. Senior John Ralston scored the go-ahead run in the seventh inning when he connected with a double. He was able to advance after a ball got past the catcher before a sacrifice fly brought him home. Senior Mike Thomas started the game for the Broncs and went 6 1/3 innings with three strikeouts.
In the first inning, senior A.J. Albee led things off for the Broncs with an RBI double, followed by an RBI single to give them a 2-0 lead. Junior Brandon Cotten, sophomore Ian Lindsay and Albee each had two of the eight hits for Rider. For Cotten, it was his 100th career hit.
On Saturday, the Broncs stretched their winning streak to six by dominating Maine in both games of the doubleheader, 7-2 and 9-2.
“It was the best day of baseball we have played in a long time,” said junior pitcher Patrick Devlin. “We took both games from Maine, leaving them in a giant hole. Our hitters hit the ball extremely well and our pitching was fantastic.”
In the first game, Devlin pitched a three-hitter, striking out five of Maine’s batters. Freshman Nick Crescenzo had an RBI double in the third and scored on an error. He was named MAAC Rookie of the Week.
In addition, Cotten had an RBI double in the sixth while seniors Mason Heyne and Steve Galella hit sacrifice flies.
In the second game, Albee hit a two-run double in the fourth inning to give Rider a 4-2 lead. Crescenzo hit an RBI single to make it 5-2. In the sixth inning, Rider recorded five hits and two walks, including an error by Maine. Senior Nate Eppley started on the mound for the Broncs, going six innings and allowing only one earned run.
On Sunday, the Broncs’ winning streak was snapped by Maine as they fell 8-3.
“I thought we came out flat on Sunday and it showed, with very little production on the offensive end,” said Davis. “That happens sometimes, but it is not something we want to be habitual.”
The Blackbears outhit Rider 13-4. Starting pitcher sophomore Joe Calogero managed to strike out four batters with just one walk and at one point retired 12 batters in a row. He was relieved on the mound with the score still deadlocked 2-2.
“Maine had a great deal of young talent and I thought we put on great pressure,” said Devlin. “All in all, it was a good weekend.”
Pitching was the key for the Broncs. In the three wins over Maine, the Rider pitchers allowed a total of six runs. In the lone loss, the Blackbears scored eight runs.
“Our starting pitching was very good,” said Davis. “Mike Thomas, Pat Devlin, Nate Eppley and Joe Calogero had quality starts.”
The Broncs hope to continue their good play as the MAAC’s begin. The first game of the series will take place today at 3 p.m. against Niagara, followed by a doubleheader on Saturday that begins at noon.