By Shaun Chornobroff
After a competitive series against Quinnipiac, Rider has established itself as one of the better baseball teams in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC), taking three of four games from the Bobcats – the preseason favorite in the conference – on March 26 and 27.
Another strong series gives Rider a 6-2 start to its season — the best start to a campaign since 2013, when the Broncs won the conference regular-season championship.
March 26 doubleheader
For six innings, Pete Soporowski was untouchable. The senior, who opened up his season with an eight-inning shutout the week before, continued his dominant form, but in the seventh and final inning, he finally found himself in trouble.
With a 2-1 lead, runners on second and third base and two outs, Head Coach Barry Davis faced a tough decision of sticking with his star pitcher or going to the bullpen.
“You got to trust him, he’s been here for five years and I don’t think we were putting him in jeopardy in terms of number of pitches,” Barry Davis explained. “We just felt that he was the guy… We just felt like he would get the job done.”
Soporowski emphatically struck out the game’s final batter, escaping with a dramatic victory.
“Honestly in that situation, I just stuck with what I was going to all game and that was trusting my defense behind me and executing pitches,” Soporowski said of his game-ending strikeout.
The series theatrics did not end there for Rider, with the second game having its own set of dramatics in what ended up being an emphatic 8-5 victory for the Broncs.
Quinnipiac got to Rider early in the game and after two innings, Rider’s starter had been knocked out of the game and the team was trailing 5-0.
Rider’s hitters were held mute for most of the game, but in the sixth inning the Broncs finally lit a spark in their offense, scoring eight runs in the inning.
“We were struggling as a team to get our offense going, but knew we were capable of putting together good at-bats to help us get back into the game,” said Kyle Johnson, who scored a run and had an RBI in the inning. “In the moment was a great feeling, seeing us not give up as a team and fight back is a good sign for us as a team in the future.”
Rider’s bullpen was crucial in the victory, with a trio of pitchers throwing eight shutout innings and only allowing three hits.
March 27 doubleheader
In the bottom of the first inning, in the first at-bat of their second doubleheader against Quinnipiac, Johnson continued his momentum from the day before, hitting a scorching home run off the scoreboard at Sonny Pittaro field to set the tone for the Broncs.
The home run was one of four RBIs for the senior left fielder, as he paced the Rider offense in a 12-6 victory.
In the early part of the game, Rider’s offense was hot, but each time it scored, Quinnipiac matched it the next inning, never taking a lead, but tying the game three times in the first four innings.
The trend lasted until the fifth inning when Rider scored three runs to gain a 9-6 lead, then shut out the Bobcats in the top of the sixth inning. Sensing an opening, the Broncs piled on three more runs in the bottom half of the inning, with Johnson driving home Rider’s final two runs of the game on his third hit of the opening match.
“I hate these games because we score two, we give up two. We score three, we give up three, we score one, we give up one,” said Davis. “That went on for a while and then finally we scored and they didn’t score… When we score 12 runs we should win the game no matter who’s pitching.”
A sweep for the Broncs was not meant to be against the Bobcats. For the second consecutive week, Rider won its first three games of the series only to lose the fourth, something Davis said he hopes “doesn’t become a trend.”
The 8-5 loss was another hotly contested affair, but in the end, the Bobcats came away victorious because of missed opportunities.
Rider had an opportunity to blow the game wide open in the fourth inning when it had two men on base with no outs and a 5-3 lead. With some of its best hitters coming up to the plate Rider failed to convert, striking out twice and grounding out to the pitcher in the next three at-bats.
“That’s big,” Davis said bluntly. “We have a chance to go up 6 or 7-3, now that doesn’t mean we’re going to hold that lead, but it certainly helps to extend the lead… . That hurt.”
Quinnipiac took the lead with a four-run sixth inning, but if it wasn’t for a fielding mistake, the damage could have been limited.
“We did a number of things, we misplayed a pop-up to the catcher, it would have been the third out,” Davis said. “That would have been the third out, they wouldn’t have scored the last two runs.”
After the mistake, the Bobcats scored two more runs, giving themselves a 7-5 lead before scoring one more run in the ninth.
The Broncs will take the road for the first time this season when they travel to Riverdale, New York, to play four games against the Manhattan Jaspers on April 2 and 3.