By Michael Mack
The Rider baseball team entered a crucial four-game swing this week, battling MAAC rival Fairfield for a three-game set and national power George Mason.
The Broncs kicked off the week with a double header against the Stags at home on Saturday.
The first game of the day was a thriller as Fairfield jumped out to a 2-0 lead after two innings. Rider tied it up in the third on RBIs from junior Matt McCollum and senior Sean Olson.
Fairfield jumped back on top with a two-run lead in the sixth inning, but Rider responded in the eighth and tied the game again. That tie stuck until the bottom of the ninth.
McCollum led the inning off with a single, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and then to third on a wild pitch. The Stags chose to intentionally walk sophomores Mason Heyne and Steve Galella while the Broncs sent up freshman Ryan Murphy to pinch hit. Murphy faced a major pressure situation, having his first plateappearance of the day be in the ninth inning of a tie game with one out and the bases loaded.
“I love pressure situations, so I just tried to stay relaxed and drive the ball somewhere,” Murphy said.
And he executed exactly what he wanted to do, driving a game-winning single down the right field line, giving the Broncs the win by a final score of 5-4.
“It felt great to hit a walk-off at our home field in front of all of our fans,” he said.
Game two saw some major offensive production from both teams. Rider and Fairfield both put up two runs in the first inning, and Rider tacked on another in the second to take a 3-2 lead.
The third inning is where Fairfield took control, putting up five runs. They added three more in the fourth inning to make the score 10-3.
The Broncs once again responded, and took a big chunk out of the lead with a five-run inning of their own. But the Stags went on to add three more, while shutting out the Rider offense for the remainder of the game, giving them a 13-8 win.
Heyne led the way for the Broncs, going one for three with two runs and two RBIs.
The rubber game on Sunday saw some more offensive production. Only this time, it was mostly for Fairfield. The Stags scored two in the second and another in the third to take a 3-0 lead.
The Broncs tied it in the bottom of the third, but after that the game was all Fairfield. After taking the lead back with a run in the fourth, the Stags threw up a five spot in the sixth, and never looked back.
Rider would manage only one more run and would eventually lose the game by a final score of 14-4, dropping the series 2-1.
Next up for the Broncs wasnationally-ranked George Mason University on Wednesday. The Rider offense took it to the 28th-ranked Patriots late in the game, throwing up 11 runs in the last four innings.
Junior Nick Wojnowski drove in four runs and scored twice, leading the Broncs to a 13-6 victory.
Sophomore relief pitcher Nate Eppley got the win for Rider.
“We hit well, we pitched well and we played very solid defense,” Eppley said. “It was really good to beat a team like that who was 28th in the nation.”
Seniors Jamie Hayes and Sean Olson also were productive at the plate for Rider. Hayes had three hits and also scored three times while Olson had two hits, knocked in two runs and scored twice.
George Mason is currently the winningest Division I program with a record of 35-9. Both North Carolina and Virginia have 35 wins but the Patriots have fewer losses.
Next up for the Broncs is a double header at Stony Brook on Saturday at 1 p.m.