By Andrew Smolar and Dylan Manfre
Rider baseball entered its series at Niagara confident after winning its first two Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) series of the year. The Broncs exited with mixed results claiming victory in the first game on April 14 but dropping the latter two games in a doubleheader on April 16.
Papeo and O’Donnell stay hot
Niagara has struggled through the entire 2022 season, but kept pace with Rider in the early innings of the 7-1 Broncs win on the road.
Graduate student pitcher Joe Papeo got the win in six innings of service, allowing four hits and fanning three batters. Senior hurler Danny Kirwin backed him up in the relief effort striking out five of his 12 batters faced.
The Purple Eagles had an opportunity to put runners on the board with men on the corners with two outs in the bottom of the third. Rider’s defense worked to its advantage when catcher Matt Ward hit a dribbler to Papeo who tossed the ball to first.
That defense was supplemented by the hot bat of junior outfielder Brendan O’Donnell who smashed a no-doubt home run to left field. It was O’Donnell’s team-leading ninth of the year as he eyes the single-season record of 17.
“It’s something that’s not on my mind but it’d definitely be a great honor to be considered to possibly do that,” O’Donnell said of the record. “Personally for me, it’d be more important to win a championship and if the record comes along with that, that’s awesome.”
The extent of Niagara’s offense through the first four frames was a ground-rule double from first baseman Josh Marchese who was left stranded after his teammates couldn’t drive him in.
Late game troubles
In the first game of the day, the Broncs trailed the Purple Eagles 1-0 for most of the game. Rider finally found the run they needed in the bottom of the seventh courtesy of three singles, the last coming from junior Jack Winsett to drive in O’Donnell.
Unfortunately, the Broncs couldn’t get the needed second run across home plate. The Purple Eagles earned a walk-off 2-1 victory.
Despite not resulting in a victory, it was another dominant outing for starting pitcher Frank Doelling. After pitching six shutouts innings with only one hit allowed against Fairfield, Doelling gave the Broncs eight innings of one-run ball.
“Frank was very good again today, when he is on his game staying focused, we stand a good chance at winning,” said Head Coach Barry Davis. “It’s a shame we could only muster one run. You will not win that way.”
The second game was again tightly contested for most of the afternoon. The Broncs had built up a 2-0 lead after five and a half innings on the strength of O’Donnell’s home run, and a bases-loaded walk.
Despite allowing Niagara to storm back and take the lead, the Broncs found it in them to score the tying run in the top of the eighth to make it 3-3.
Unfortunately for Rider, Niagara exploded in the bottom of the eighth with most of the damage coming after two outs were recorded. The Purple Eagles had five consecutive hits with two outs to completely blow the game open. The Broncs ended up losing 11-3.
Despite the rough inning, Davis pointed to missed opportunities offensively as an area he wanted to see improvement.
“The game was close until the bottom of the eighth,” said Davis. “We missed two golden opportunities with the bases loaded where we only scored one run, we have plenty to work on.”
Rider will get another shot at MAAC play when they welcome Manhattan to campus for a three-game weekend series starting on April 22.