By Shaun Chornobroff
With one out in the seventh inning, a runner on second base and his team tied 1-1 in a pitchers duel with an Alabama team that is known for being strong offensively, Head Coach Dr. Barry Davis turned to graduate student Cal Stazler in relief of a tiring Kenny Doelling.
Two batters later, Stazler, who had a 2.81 ERA entering the game, was forced to watch sophomore William Hattiner trot around the bases after launching a two-run home run over the right field fence, putting a dagger in Rider’s season and eliminating them from the Ruston Regional, virtue of a 3-1 defeat on June 5.
“It’s extremely humid here… It was just humid and sticky and wet and [Doelling] was battling. We were having short innings, we weren’t doing much offensively to give him as much rest as we could,” Davis said of his reason for removing Doelling from the game. “His pitch count was pushing 100… I don’t think it was a tough decision, he was tired, he was gutting it out and you don’t want to leave him out there when you have a fresh guy ready to go.”
On the biggest stage of his collegiate career and against a lineup that is filled with depth and battle-tested against some of the best pitching in college baseball, Doelling looked the part.
The junior flamethrower and junior college transfer was unlucky to be credited with the loss, pitching 6 ⅓ innings, striking out two batters allowing three hits, five walks and two earned-runs, the latter of which scored on the game-winning home run that Stalzer allowed.
“I have more confidence in myself than anyone, I feel like I can pitch with the best,” Doelling said of his performance, which he admitted surpassed his own expectations. “Just going out there with one of the best SEC schools, getting an at-large bid to the tournament, I couldn’t be more proud of myself or this team.”
Senior left fielder Kyle Johnson hit a double on the first at-bat of the game and eventually came around to score to give the Broncs a 1-0 lead before their SEC opponents even came up to bat.
But that was the only run the Broncs mustered in the defeat, with Alabama starter Dylan Smith throwing a career-high 116 pitches and striking out seven batters in one of the strongest performances of his career.
“We never really put any pressure on him,” Davis said after the loss. “We got the leadoff double from Kyle, that was one run. We only had a couple situations, we never really had a guy in scoring position too often.”
The loss brings an end to a magical season for Rider, where they not only won a Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Tournament championship, but proved they could compete with a Power Five opponent in its final game of the season.
“It was tough all year, from the fall up until the spring we had two or three shutdowns, we had to quarantine, so we didn’t know what kind of season we were going to have, playing only a MAAC Schedule,” Doelling said proudly. “Going into the MAAC Tournament we had nothing really to lose. It was going to be our last time playing together if we didn’t win it all. We just wanted to go out there and make history and make Rider proud and I feel like we did that.”
Despite not breaking a 34 year winless drought in the NCAA Tournament, it seems this team, which shocked the college baseball world by even qualifying for the tournament, will head back to Lawrenceville with its pride intact, heads held high, and prepare to attempt a return to the NCAA Tournament in the 2022 season.