Defensive mistakes cost Broncs home opener

Freshman infielder Jake Barbiere had one RBI in the loss to Lehigh.

By Rob Rose 

The baseball team dropped its home opener against Lehigh, 5-3, on March 27. The game was the final tuneup for Rider before MAAC play begins on March 30.

Freshman Joe Papeo got the start on the mound for the Broncs. Papeo entered the game with a 1-4 record and 5.10 ERA.

After allowing one unearned run in the first inning, Papeo attempted to strand a runner at third base with two outs left in the top of the second.

Papeo induced a ground ball, but junior shortstop Richie Tecco lost the ball on the transfer and was charged an error. The Mountain Hawks’ runner scored on the play and on the ensuing at-bat, a triple brought home another run, giving Lehigh a 3-0 lead.

Errors have been a common theme for Rider early this season, as the team has started off slow.

“It’s hurt us this season and it hurt us today,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “I think, in the long run, these games will help because the team is seeing why we aren’t winning. It’s fundamentals, – simple, basic things.”

After a pair of leadoff walks by senior infielder Jake Bender and sophomore outfielder Joe Simone, junior first baseman Riley Mihalik stepped to the plate. The power-hitting left-hander drove a ball to deep center field, but it was caught. Simone attempted to tag up and advance on the play but was thrown out at second base.

Bender came around to score on a wild pitch by Ratner. Sophomore catcher Tyler Stockwell struck out to end the frame with the Mountain Hawks on top, 3-1, after three innings.

Papeo locked in during the third and fourth innings, allowing only one hit while striking out three batters. Despite a struggling offense, Papeo battled, keeping the Broncs within striking distance.

“I attacked hitters and trusted my defense. I know they’ll help me more times than they don’t,” said Papeo, who went four and a third innings.

Senior outfielder Harrison McClure lead the fourth inning off with a line-drive single to left field, Rider’s first hit of the game. Sophomore infielder Kyle Johnson followed suit, reaching first with a single of his own. Ratner, who struggled with his command, allowed both Bronc runners to advance on a wild pitch, setting up a prime scoring opportunity. Freshman third baseman Jake Barbiere drove home McClure with a groundout on the following at bat. Senior infielder Christian Estevez laid down a perfect bunt, as the Broncs executed a suicide squeeze to tie the game at three.

Tecco added another single before a ground ball from Bender took a Bronc bounce and hit second base, allowing Bender to reach and Tecco to advance to third. Simone flew out to center field to end the fourth tied, 3-3.

After a leadoff walk to begin the fifth inning, Lehigh sacrificed the runner to second before a wild pitch by Papeo moved him to third. Papeo intentionally walked the next batter to set up a double play opportunity for junior Anthony Arneth who entered in relief. Lehigh took a 4-3 lead after a sacrifice fly by Tony Gallo. Papeo finished his start with four runs allowed, all unearned.

In the top of the eighth, freshman catcher Liam Harding took over behind the plate as freshman Vincent Vitacco entered in relief of junior Zach Gakeler. A throwing error by Tecco, his second of the game, allowed the leadoff Mountain Hawks’ batter to score. On his next throw, Vitacco threw a wild pitch and the Lehigh runner was able to sprint home and increase the lead to 5-3.

The Broncs went down in order in the bottom of the ninth. Estevez and Tecco struck out looking, while Bender flew out to center field, securing the Lehigh victory.

“We haven’t been playing well so far, but tomorrow is a new season,” said Papeo. “It will be a fun weekend; we will come out ready to play.”

A snow storm on the first day of spring delayed the Broncs’ home opener, postponing a matchup with in-state rival Rutgers on March 24 and canceling a three-game series with LIU Brooklyn on March 24 and 25. The game against Rutgers has been rescheduled for April 24 at 3:30 p.m. while the series against LIU Brooklyn will not be made up.

The Broncs’ record is now 5-15. Rider begins MAAC play with a three-game series against Iona on March 30 at 3:00 p.m. and a doubleheader on March 31, starting at 12 p.m.

Follow Rob Rose on Twitter for the latest news on Rider Baseball.

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