Things are starting to shape up the way the Rider baseball team expected them to.
It wasn’t looking good for the Broncs (12-11 overall, 3-3 MAAC) when they had a stretch where they were losers in seven of their last nine games, managing fewer than four runs per contest during the spell.
Since then, Rider has turned the corner, winning four of its last six games and the bats have started to wake up. As a team, they’re averaging six and a half runs in the four victories.
Following a 17-hit, 12-run thumping at the hands of Seton Hall (15-12 overall), the Broncs took their aggression out on Temple (13-11 overall), stroking 13 hits in a 14-8 win at Skip Wilson Field in Pennsylvania. The Owls seem to be Rider’s slump-buster, as the 14 runs are the most the team has scored since hammering out 18 runs on the Atlantic-10 team last season.
The Broncs distanced themselves early from Temple with an eight-run second inning that was capped off by a three-run dinger by freshman infielder Mason Heyne, his first career home run.
All 13 of Rider’s hits came from its top five hitters in the lineup. The team received three hit performances from junior right fielder Jamie Hayes, redshirt sophomore center fielder Matt McCollum — who led the team with four RBIs — Heyne, and junior left fielder Maurice Williams. Junior catcher Sean Olson had the other hit on an RBI double in the seventh.
Junior Dan Sasso allowed four earned runs in five innings to pick up his second win of the season.
After an 8-5 win over St. Joseph’s last Thursday that started the winning trend, the Broncs took two out of three from Marist (6-12 overall, 2-4 MAAC) in a crucial MAAC series over the weekend to bring their record back up to .500 in the conference.
The teams played two on Saturday, and in the opener it went right down to the wire.
Deadlocked at two in the top half of the ninth, sophomore shortstop Rich Curylo — who went 4-for-5 in the first game — gave the Red Foxes the lead with a two-run single. Junior third basemen Kyle Meyer then scored on a passed ball to make it 5-2.
The Broncs’ offense came to life in the ninth as Marist pitchers Brendan Chaplan and Eric Alessio were unable to retire a single batter. With the bases loaded, freshman second basemen Steve Galella roped a double down the left field line, scoring two and cutting the deficit to one. After Olson was intentionally walked to load the bases, Heyne came through with a double of his own, scoring Galella and Hayes.
“He threw me a slider away and then I knew he was going to come in with a fastball [on the next pitch] so I started early and tried to get it to the outfield,” Heyne said on his game-winning hit. “It was the best comeback I’ve ever been a part of.”
Junior pitcher Mike Petrowski had another strong showing on the bump, throwing eight and a third innings and allowing two earned runs in his third quality start of the season.
“My curveball was probably the best pitch I had [on Saturday],” Petrowski said. “I could throw it anywhere I wanted, and I was planting it pretty good with two strikes.”
In the second game of the twinbill, junior Jimmer Kennedy continued Rider’s mound success as he scattered three hits and a run in six innings of the seven-inning affair.
According to Kennedy, he just gave the Red Foxes’ starting nine a heavy dose of fastballs, and they just couldn’t get the bat around.
“I think out of about 75 pitches, 68 were fastballs,” he said. “We just moved it in and out, up and down, just kept moving it around until they made an adjustment and they just never did.”
Heyne led the team in hits, going a perfect 3-for-3 at the plate with an RBI, while Hayes and Olson each had two hits of their own.
Hayes would come in and close the door in the ninth to pick up his fifth save of the season in the 3-1 Broncs’ win.
The sweep would be avoided as Marist won the rubber game 5-1. Freshman southpaw Stephen Peterson threw a complete game, five hitter, allowing one run and striking out three.
After allowing two runs in the first inning, freshman Mike Thomas would recover by shutting out the Red Foxes and holding them to three hits for the remainder of the game.
With the score 2-1 in the ninth, Curylo came through again with another single that drove in two, and freshman second basemen Ricky Pacione would knock him with a double for the game’s final score.
As the Broncs seem to be hitting their stride, they will need the good fortune to continue as they play the MAAC’s top team, Canisius (20-2 overall, 3-0 MAAC) in a three-game series on the road starting with a double dip on Saturday.
One of the players who will need to stay hot for Rider if it looks to make a serious push in conference play is Hayes.
Since going 0-for-4 against Manhattan in the final game of a three-game set, Hayes has hit 16-for-29 in seven games, increasing his batting average nearly 100 points up to .356 for the season.
“I’ve got to continue to build on that going in to a big weekend series this weekend with the first-place team,” Hayes said. “We’re all ready for the opportunity to go up there and knock them off and start making a push for the MAAC season title.”