By Jordan Hall
The Rider baseball team took its first step in defending its MAAC title on Saturday, March 21 against Niagara. The Broncs (5-9, 2-1 MAAC) pulled out the brooms and swept the Purple Eagles (4-13, 1-2 MAAC) in the doubleheader by scores of 8-1 and 7-3, but then fell in the series finale on Sunday, 7-3. Three days later, Rider pounded state rival Rutgers 13-5 in its home opener.
Rider banged out 11 hits in each of the first two games and received solid pitching en route to the wins.
In game one, with a tie score, junior catcher Eric Woodrow hit a clutch two-out grand slam to left field, breaking open the game.
Senior Mike Petrowski was tremendous on the mound, hurling a complete game while giving up only one run and punching out five.
“When someone goes all nine, it certainly helps your team for the subsequent games, so Mike was big for us,” said Head Coach Barry Davis.
Woodrow and senior Sean Olson finished with three hits apiece and combined for five RBIs.
Game two wasn’t quite as much of a breeze. Rider continued to receive timely hitting as sophomore shortstop John Ralston belted a two-out, three-run home run to left field in the fourth inning.
Senior Jimmer Kennedy exited the ball game after giving up three runs on four and one-third’s work, but the bullpen displayed a lights-out performance to follow up. The relief corps went three and two-thirds innings, giving up no runs and striking out four, keeping the contest tied and giving way to the offense.
In the top of the ninth inning and the score tied, sophomore second baseman A.J. Albee hit in the go-ahead RBI by singling to left field, and then senior leftfielder Maurice Williams delivered the knockout punch by connecting on a two-out, three-run double that put the score out of reach.
“We were fortunate enough to get some big hits late in the game and take advantage of some mistakes they made,” Davis said.
Williams collected three hits and Albee and Olson had two hits each in the victory.
The Broncs were unable to complete the series sweep as their defense struggled on the last day. Rider committed five errors compared to Niagara’s zero, which proved to be the difference.
“We had five hits and five errors, so you’re not going to win any games with that performance,” Davis said.
The Broncs were within striking distance, trailing 4-2, until the Purple Eagles put three runs on the board in the seventh.
Finally competing for the first time at home, Rider brought out some serious lumber, collecting 16 hits and plating 13 runs to cruise past the Scarlet Knights.
The Broncs jumped out to an early 8-0 lead in the third inning and never looked back. Rider had five players with multi-hit days, while junior nine-hitter Matt McCollum went four for four and knocked in five runs and sophomore designated hitter Steve Galella had three hits and three RBIs.
The Broncs received a solid pitching performance from senior Derek Caldwell, who went five innings, only giving up two runs while striking out six.
Rider begins its second MAAC three-game series versus Iona today at 3 p.m. at Sonny Pittaro field.