By Thomas Regan
The baseball team headed down to Buies Creek, North Carolina, to open its season at the Campbell Invitational, where the Broncs were swept by Campbell, but won both contests against Virginia Tech.
In the bottom of the first inning against Campbell (5-2), Rider struggled in the field, committing two errors to help give the Fighting Camels an early 2-0 lead.
Rider (2-2) was then unable to take advantage of a leadoff single by senior outfielder Greg Fazio in the second and Campbell strung four hits together, adding two more runs to push their lead to 4-0. The score remained there until the seventh inning.
In the top half of the seventh, Rider was able to generate some offense after a Fazio single and a walk issued to junior infielder Patrick Murphy set the Broncs up with first and second and nobody out. Campbell then retired the next two batters before junior outfielder James Locklear reached on a throwing error and Rider scored its first run of the season.
In the next at bat, senior third baseman Nick Richter was hit by a pitch to load the bases and senior shortstop Mike Parsons ripped a double to left field and brought all three runs in to tie the score at four.
The score didn’t hold for long, as the Campbell offense exploded for seven runs over the next two innings and retired the Broncs in order in the ninth inning to win the game 11-4.
Rider was able to find more success against Virginia Tech (3-4), as senior right-hander Kurt Sowa toed the rubber for the Broncs and pitched six innings of two-run ball.
Despite a rocky start that saw Sowa give the Hokies a 2-1 lead, he settled in, surrendering just two hits across three scoreless innings, while the Broncs enjoyed a two-run fourth inning to move ahead 3-2.
Virginia Tech managed to tie the score at three in the eighth inning, eliminating Sowa from receiving a decision. However, in the bottom half of the inning, Rider’s Locklear was walked and stole second, later scoring on what would be the game-deciding base hit off the bat of Justin Thomas.
Sowa credited his team’s sound defense and pitching coach for his quality start.
“My defense played very well behind me,” he said. “They picked me up in some big situations and made some great plays. My fastball and curveball were working, so Coach Stewart just kept calling them.”
Despite a solid pitching performance by Vincenzo Aiello in the next game against Campbell, the Broncs were done in by a third-inning error that gave the Fighting Camels a 2-0 lead that Rider could not overcome.
After losing the series to Campbell, Rider faced off against Virginia Tech for a rematch on Feb. 23. The Broncs received contributions from freshman left-hander Nick Margevicius and a Murphy single that drove in two runs to put them ahead in the third inning, 2-0.
In the fifth inning, Rider was able to add to its lead with a homerun off the bat of Thomas, pulling out in front 3-0. However, a throwing error in the bottom half of the inning allotted the Hokies their first run of the game to narrow Rider’s lead to two.
Virginia Tech continued to knock on the door with a run in the sixth inning, before Rider’s defense collapsed in the eighth, committing two throwing errors and allowing the Hokies to tie the score 3-3.
The score held until the 12th inning when a one-out Richter double put a Bronc in scoring position. Richter moved to third after a groundout, before scoring on an error, which would prove to be the game-winning run.
The Broncs will try to improve on their two wins with a three-game set against Duke in Durham, North Carolina on Feb. 27 and 28, as well as March 1.
Parsons believes the team saw improvement over the first four games of the season, but knows it will have to continue to improve.
“The amount of improvement overall as a team from game one to the rest of the weekend was a huge leap and a reason we were successful,” he said. “We have to keep playing solid defense and continue to pitch well. Both facets were great and if our offense picks up we will be a very tough team to beat.”