Broncs unable to limit Louisiana Tech offense in NCAA Tournament opener

By Shaun Chornobroff

Rider knew it was facing one of the best lineups in college baseball the second it was matched up against No.16 Louisiana Tech in the NCAA Tournament. Against a lineup that not only has elite power, but also has a batting average above .300, there’s very little room for error. 

The Bulldogs made that lesson perfectly clear to the Broncs throughout the teams matchup at J.C. Love Field, handing Rider an 18-2 blowout loss in the Broncs first NCAA Tournament game since 2010. 

“They had 64 home runs, but they also struck out [424] times, so they’re aggressive swingers and we knew that. We needed to make pitches, we needed to locate, we needed to change speeds, we needed to be able to throw a breaking ball over for a strike,” Head Coach Dr. Barry Davis said. “Our game plan was to try and get ahead… and the strikeouts we did get were indicative of our gameplan, when we got ahead in the count we were able to do that. But we weren’t ahead in the count. When you fall behind in the count against guys like this, it’s just remedy for bad things to happen.”

The Broncs were handed their first blow before they even recorded an out. In the bottom of the first inning, graduate student pitcher Pete Soporowski hit the leadoff batter, bringing third baseman Hunter Wells to the plate. Wells, who hit .366 in the regular season, emphatically belted his 12th home run of the season well over the fence, handing the Bulldogs an immediate lead. 

With one out in the next inning, Soporowski made an error, flipping a ball out of his glove well over the outstretched arm of 6-foot-4 sophomore first baseman Luke Lesch. Soporowski walked the next batter, bringing Wells to the plate again. The veteran extended his teams lead to 5-0 with a standup double. 

Wells had a performance that will be written into Louisiana Tech folklore, going 4-for-5 from the plate, with two home runs and a video game-esque nine RBIs in front of a stadium packed with Bulldog supporters. 

Soporowski was removed two batters later with a stat line of 1 ⅔ innings pitched, five earned runs and six hits in what was potentially his final start in an accomplished career at Rider. 

“It was definitely very special. If that was my last start, it was definitely a great way to go out, having the season that we had,” Soporowski said after the loss. “It’s not over yet, we definitely have a chance to be able to come back and compete, so hopefully we still have some more games to go.”

Even with the starting pitcher removed, the Louisiana Tech lineup persisted and its lead sat at 9-0 after five innings. 

The Broncs were finally able to get an offense going in the seventh inning, pushing two runners across home plate. Freshman catcher Brian Skettini continued a nice start to his collegiate career by driving in the first run on a single up the middle. Three batters later, senior right fielder Lou Priolo was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded to drive in Rider’s final run of the night.

With the score still sitting at 9-2 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, it took a trio of Rider relievers to stop Louisiana Tech’s offense. The Bulldogs scored nine runs on only three hits, with the third and final hit of the inning, ironically enough, being a grand slam by Wells. 

Rider will try to extend its stay at the NCAA Tournament on June 5 at 3 p.m. when the Broncs face the Alabama Crimson Tide in an elimination game.

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