By Michael Mack
The Rider baseball team packed its bags and hit the road this past week, traveling to both Loudonville, N.Y., and Fairfax, Va. In return, the Broncs dropped their first MAAC series of the season at Siena (14-24), but rebounded with a non-league win at George Mason (15-23-1). The Broncs are preparing to take on Fairfield on Saturday.
Rider (21-12, 9-3 MAAC) took on conference rival Siena in a three-game set. In game one of the series, the Broncs sent out their ace pitcher, senior Mike Thomas. The team looked sharp early, getting two runners on in the first inning, but were unable to capitalize on the opportunity. Siena took advantage and jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the second inning.
The Broncs evened it up quickly in the next inning with an RBI by first baseman Mason Heyne. The Broncs took the lead in the fifth on another RBI by Heyne, before Siena scratched out another run against Thomas to tie it up in the sixth.
With the score tied up at two in the seventh inning, Heyne came through with yet another RBI, this time on a big double.
“I felt like I was seeing the ball well and was able to put some good swings on it,” Heyne said. “I just focus on doing what I can to help us get that ‘W’.”
Thomas was able to throw two more shut-out innings before being relieved by dominant closer Tyler Smith, who locked down his tenth save of the year, giving Thomas the win.
“I was able to be more efficient, which helped me keep my pitch count down,” Thomas said. “I just tried to be aggressive and let our defense make the plays behind me.”
With the series opening win, the Broncs looked to keep rolling in game two. Unfortunately, the momentum seemed to have switched hands. Siena jumped out to a 5-0 lead and never looked back.
The Broncs surrendered runs in five of the six innings that Siena batted in. The lone bright spots for the Broncs included center fielder Nick Crescenzo who collected three RBIs, and Heyne who picked up his second home run of the year.
After the tough loss, the Broncs looked to take the rubber match of the series, but once again, the Saints came out scoring early, getting a run in the first inning.
The Broncs didn’t score until the fifth when Crescenzo knocked in a run with a double. but Siena answered with a run in the bottom of the inning, and added another in the sixth to take a 3-1 lead.
Rider scored again in the eighth on an RBI by Heyne but left two runners stranded at the end of the inning.
In the ninth, with the tying run just 90 feet from home plate, the Broncs couldn’t push the run across and Siena closed out the win with a final score of 3-2, and the series with a score of 2-1.
“We had a chance to really put ourselves in a great position,” Thomas said. “We just didn’t play well enough to win the series.”
The Broncs then traveled down to Virginia to take on George Mason in a single game.
Once again, it looked like the same old story — Rider surrenders an early lead.
After scoring a run in the top of the first, the Broncs allowed five over the next two innings. After five innings, the Broncs trailed George Mason 6-2. After that, though, they began to climb back.
One run in the seventh on a triple by designated hitter Steve Galella cut the lead to three. Then the offense exploded. Three runs in the eighth inning tied the game for the Broncs.
With Smith on the hill, Rider took the tie game into the ninth where they were able to keep the hits coming. An RBI single by senior right fielder Karl Johnston followed by a two-run homerun by junior center fielder Brandon Cotten gave the Broncs a 9-6 lead. Smith locked down the ninth to pick up his second win of the season and give the team a much needed slump buster.
The Broncs are now 21-12, with a 9-3 record in conference play.
“As a team we are in great shape right now,” Heyne said. “Since I’ve been here I don’t think we have ever started out this well in conference play.”
Next up for the Broncs is a home series against Fairfield beginning on Saturday.