By Thomas Albano
As the 2014 MAAC baseball season starts to wind down, Rider (13-26, 5-8 MAAC) found itself battling for the sixth and final spot for the MAAC Tournament.
The Broncs played three games against Manhattan (11-28, 6-12 MAAC) on April 26 and 27, which saw the Broncs win one of the three, and were handed a 7-4 loss by St. Joseph’s (27-10, 13-4 Atlantic 10) on April 29.
Head Coach Barry Davis says this season the team has had “some unfortunate circumstances,” but they will be fine if they play more consistently.
“We’ve had some games where we’ve won, we come back and play well, and there’s some games where we just play really bad,” Davis said. “But then we have games where we just do one or two things more consistently and we’re not in the position we’re in.”
The Broncs split the doubleheader against Manhattan on April 26. Game one saw Manhattan win in 11 innings, while Rider won the seven-inning second game.
The Broncs were led in game one by senior pitcher Kyle Kennett, who pitched nine innings, giving up two runs and six hits while striking out four.
The game started quiet on both sides until the bottom of the third inning, when sophomore right fielder Brian Donnelly had the first hit of the game. Donnelly would end up scoring on a hit by junior first baseman Justin Thomas and junior third baseman Nick Richter would score on a hit by senior center fielder Nick Crescenzo.
The Jaspers would get a run in both the fourth and sixth innings from a home run by sophomore designated hitter Christian Santisteban and a double by junior third baseman Joe McClennan, respectively.
In the 11th inning, Manhattan earned a run on three hits off of freshman pitcher Josh Sharik, who came in for Kennett the previous inning. The Broncs did not respond as the Jaspers took the first game 3-2.
Davis believes the inability to take advantage of offensive opportunities cost Rider the game.
“We only had eight guys in scoring position with two hits [with runners in scoring position] and we just didn’t generate any offense,” Davis said. “And you got to give the other team and pitcher credit. Manhattan didn’t make any errors, and they came up with a couple of big hits. I think the run scored late probably shouldn’t have been scored, but that’s the way it is.”
In the second game of the series the Broncs’ bats heated up in a 7-0 victory.
Rider’s win came behind junior pitcher Zach Mawson, who earned the victory in a two-hit shutout.
On the offensive end, Rider was able to collect 10 hits, with strong performances from Thomas, who had one hit, two walks and two RBIs, and junior second baseman Greg Fazio, who had two hits and two RBIs.
The rubber match on April 27 got off to a rough start for the Broncs, as the starting pitcher, junior Kurt Sowa, was rocked by the Manhattan offense. Sowa would only pitch 2.1 innings, giving up seven runs and six hits. Sowa’s day would be finished in the top of the third, and sophomore Vincenzo Aiello would replace him.
Fortunately for the Broncs, they were able to score runs in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings to tie the game at seven apiece. Aiello would keep the game tied in 7.2 innings of relief, allowing just three hits and one run. That Jasper run would come in the 10th, and the Broncs would answer right back in the bottom of the inning.
Lightning would not strike twice, however, and Rider could not answer a Jasper run in the 15th, losing the game 9-8.
Crescenzo said while the Broncs are still in the running for a spot in the MAAC Championship Tournament, losing the series against Manhattan “definitely doesn’t help.”
“We are still in the mix to make the tournament,” Crescenzo said. “We just have to focus on limiting the mistakes and making the most of the opportunities.”
Unfortunately for the Broncs, they were also unsuccessful against St. Joseph’s. The Hawks’ offense, which had a four-run sixth inning, helped them defeat Rider.
Next up for the Broncs will be a home showdown with Lafayette (12-26, 5-13 Patriot League) on April 30, followed by a three-game set on the road against Monmouth (15-20, 6-7 MAAC).
With the top six teams at the end of the season going to the MAAC Championship Tournament, Davis says it’s not time to push the panic button yet, but the team needs to play harder than before.
“Winning every series out would put us in a good position, but every time we don’t win a series, then you start getting into where you have to sweep, and that’s hard to do,” Davis said. “We sort of put ourselves in a corner, and we’ve got to try to find a way out. We have nine games left, and certainly we’re going to need to win more than half of them.”