By Corey Donetz
The baseball team rebounded this past weekend after a tough one-run loss to Monmouth. The Broncs won four in a row including a three-game sweep of MAAC rival St. Peter’s, followed up by a victory over Long Island.
The series against St. Peter’s included a doubleheader on Saturday, during which the Broncs won 13-2 and 5-4, followed by a single game on Sunday. On Wednesday, Rider beat LIU 12-9.
The Broncs jumped to a quick 7-0 lead in the first inning and didn’t look back. The offensive surge gave junior pitcher Mike Thomas a confidence boost.
“Our offense built up a seven-run lead before I even went on the mound,” said Thomas. The southpaw pitched a complete game and recorded a career-high 11 strikeouts. “My mindset was to just throw strikes, make good pitches, and not walk anyone with the big lead,” he said. “The 11 strikeouts took care of themselves; I was just trying to consistently stay in the strike zone. I felt pretty good and our defense made some great plays behind me, as usual.”
Rider would continue the offensive surge by adding six more runs before the game’s end. Seven of the players in the lineup accounted for the 13 runs batted in and nine different players added the 17 hits accumulated by the Broncs. Senior Nick Wojnowski, junior Mason Heyne and sophomore Brandon Cotten had three hits each.
“We hit the ball with some consistency, ran the bases with aggressiveness and pitched well,” said Head Coach Barry Davis.
The second game of the doubleheader was much closer than the first. The game was scheduled for seven innings, and St. Peter’s took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. They quickly relinquished it as Rider took a 2-1 lead after a pair of singles and two errors let two runs cross the plate. An error in the fourth inning gave St. Peter’s a 3-2 lead after scoring two unearned runs. The lead would hold until the top of the sixth inning when Wojnowski hit a two-run homerun to give the Broncs a one-run lead.
“Nick has worked hard and has taken advantage and made the most of his opportunity,” said Davis.
Wojnowski had two runs, five hits and four RBI’s, and didn’t leave a runner on base for the doubleheader. St. Peter’s would tie the game in the bottom half of the sixth inning with one run on three hits. With one out in the top of the seventh, Cotten worked a walk and without delay stole second. He advanced to third on a force out and then scored on an error. Bad defense and unearned runs were the downfall of St. Peter’s in game two. Rider would hold off the Peacocks in the bottom of the seventh to pick up the win.
“We have a lot to improve on — fielding bunts and sacrifice bunting to start,” Davis said. “We just need to continue to work on the things that win and that is solid fundamentals.”
Game three was a repeat of game one as Rider’s offense once again flourished. Heyne was 3-4 with three doubles and two RBIs.
“I was seeing the ball really well,” Heyne said. “I felt good at the plate. All that I was focusing on was putting a good swing on the ball each at bat. I was trying to stay closed and drive the ball through the middle of the field.”
Heyne has undoubtedly stepped up his game and was named MAAC Player of the Week for his efforts. He hit .545 during the week leading Rider to a 4-1 record during that span. Half of Heyne’s hits were doubles and he scored seven runs and had eight runs batted in during the week. Eight of the hits, all six doubles and six of the runs came in the series sweep of St. Peter’s.
Rider scored in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings to take an 8-0 lead. St. Peter’s cut the lead to six, but in the top of the 8th the Broncs busted the game wide open, scoring five runs on five hits. Junior Karl Johnston also had a great game with three hits, including two doubles. He also scored four runs. The offense was again divided up as eight Broncs combined to have 16 hits and seven different players had at least one run batted in.
The offense made it easy for sophomore Patrick Devlin to pick up a win. Devlin threw seven impressive innings allowing just two runs on three hits while striking out four.
“I was keeping the ball down in the zone and I kept St. Peter’s off balance,” he said. “I was spotting my fastball primarily on the outer half of the plate and I kept the hitters guessing cause I was throwing my curveball for strikes.”
Rider continued its winning ways by picking up a 12-9 victory over the visiting Blackbirds of Long Island University. The game was scheduled for nine innings but was cut an inning short because of darkness.
The Broncs scored in each of the first three innings taking an 8-0 early lead. The offense was again spread around as eight different Broncs had hits, with freshman Ian Lindsey claiming three. Lindsey also had three runs and two RBIs. Wojnowski, juniors Johnston and John Ralston and Cotten added two hits each. Johnston had a team high three RBIs.
Rider added four more unanswered runs to build a 12-0 lead. A lead of 12 after six innings usually seems insurmountable, but Long Island didn’t give up. The Blackbirds scored four runs in the seventh inning and five runs in the eighth. The pitching towards the end of the game was inconsistent.
“The young staff has been inconsistent at times. We have had some good days and some poor ones,” Davis said. “We will need to continue to improve to meet our team goals.”
Nonetheless, Rider was able to hold on for the 12-8 win.
Heyne was able to extend his hitting streak to an impressive 15 games with a double in the sixth inning. Heyne and the Broncs look to continue their success this weekend as they head north to take on MAAC rival Canisius. Following the series, the Broncs spend the remainder of the season at home for 13 of their last 18 games.
“Home field advantage is big, especially in the MAAC,” said Heyne.