By Jack McLoone
Playing college baseball in the Northeast actually means that you play baseball in the South for a month to start every season. This past weekend, the Rams traveled down to Houston Baptist University to begin their 2017 campaign, coming away with one win over the three games.
Things got off to an inauspicious start, with lightning on Friday forcing the Rams to start their season off with an unplanned double-header on Saturday.
The front half of the double-header saw sophomore Mike Cowell on the mound for the first time as a Ram, since he missed all of last season with an injury. It showed in his first inning of work. Cowell allowed a leadoff triple to Spencer Halloran, and, after getting the next batter to pop out, walked Austin Zillweger. He battled back for a strikeout against the next batter. However, a wild pitch to the next batter allowed Zillweger to move to second. Cowell still had not settled down, with a balk bringing home Halloran from third to score and moved Zillweger to his place. But, Cowell battled back for another strikeout to end the inning with a runner just 90 feet away.
Cowell mostly got over his first appearance nerves for the rest of his four-inning appearance, notching another two strikeouts over three more frames. He did give up two more walks and another wild pitch, but held the Huskies out of the scoring column.
The Rams scored their first runs of the season in the fourth inning. After sophomore catcher Justin Bardwell and senior shortstop Luke Stampfl hit back-to-back singles to put runners on the corners, sophomore Brian Goulard drove in Bardwell with a double to left. A groundout to shortstop by junior outfielder Ryan Jennings brought in Stampfl, giving the Rams a 2-1 lead.
Junior pitcher David Wright came in to relieve Cowell in the fifth. Like the starter, Wright also missed all of last season with an injury. Also, he may have had some nerves, letting one wild pitch go, but escaping the inning with no runs allowed.
“It’s tough for these guys when they have to go through an injury that requires surgery and to know that their hard work to get back has paid off has to feel good for them,” said head coach Kevin Leighton.
The sixth inning did not go as well. After getting a ground out to start the inning, back-to-back singles and a hit batter left the bases loaded with one out. Leighton decided that was enough and pulled Wright in favor of sophomore Reiss Knehr. The first batter hit a single down the left field line to score one and a sacrifice fly scored another, putting Houston Baptist back up 3-2, with both runs charged to Wright.
After a scoreless seventh, the Rams got the lead back in the eighth inning. They loaded the bases with no outs on a single from senior centerfield Jason Lundy, senior Mark Donadio getting hit by a pitch and senior third baseman Matthew Kozuch drawing a walk. Bardwell then grounded what looked to be a double play ball to short, but a botched throw from the second baseman Jack Fitzgerald resulted in two runs scoring and only one out, putting the Rams back ahead 4-3. Knehr then closed the door over the last two frames, giving the Rams their first victory in their first game.
The back half of the double header did not go nearly as well for Fordham. Graduate student Jimmy Murphy struggled mightily in his first start of the season. After giving up one run in the first inning and two in the second, he got tagged for a three-run homer in the bottom of the third that put the Huskies up 6-0. Three batters later, there was one out but runners on second and third and Murphy was pulled in favor of freshman Brandon Martin. Both inherited runners scored, giving Murphy eight earned runs on the day.
The Rams got one back in the fourth off the bat of Stampfl. In the fifth, freshman outfielder Alvin Melendez hit his first career homerun, plating three and cutting the lead to 8-4 HBU.
The Huskies got one back against junior pitcher Jake Bernardo in the sixth to go up 9-4.
It was the seventh inning when things spiraled out of control, as senior pitcher Shane McDonald, who also missed last season to injury, could not get one out en route to giving up four runs, giving the Huskies a 13-4 lead.
The Rams got one more run on the board off the bat of freshman outfielder Billy Godrick in the ninth, with a pinch-hit RBI single in his first career at-bat. The Rams were unable to mount a full-scale miraculous comeback, splitting the opening double-header.
In the rubber match on Sunday, the Rams started out hot. Melendez stroked a double to right center and then scored on a sacrifice fly from Donadio two batters later to put Fordham up 1-0. In the next inning, Goulard hit his first career home run, a two-run shot that also brought home Bardwell.
In the fourth inning, the Huskies got on the board off of sophomore pitcher Anthony DiMeglio on a solo homer from Zilweger. That was his only real blemish on the day. He went five strong innings, giving up just one other hit, striking out four batters and walking none.
Freshman pitcher Brian Weissert — younger brother of Greg, who was drafted by the Yankees last year — came in in the sixth in relief of DiMeglio, and gave up one run on a sacrifice fly, making the score 3-2.
After walking back-to-back batters with one out in the seventh, Weissert was pulled in favor of sophomore pitcher Anthony Zimmerman. Zimmerman allowed both inherited runners to score, plus another three of his own, putting HBU up 7-3.
The Rams came right back in the eighth, answering with three runs of their own. With the bases juiced, senior outfielder Ryan Mahoney dropped a single into right field that plated two runs, eventually advancing to second. Godrick pinch ran for him, and scored one batter later on a single from Goulard. Unfortunately for Fordham, the rally was snuffed out by back-to-back strikeouts from freshman Matt Tarabeck and Melendez.
The Rams were unable to get a rally going in the ninth and fell in the final game 7-6.
“I thought Mike Cowell, Reiss Knehr and Anthony DiMeglio all pitched very well and offensively Brian Goulard, Luke Stampfl and Justin Bardwell had a solid weekend,” said Leighton.
Stampfl was a standout for the Rams over the weekend, going 9-13 with one double and one RBI, with two four-for-four games. Goulard went 5-12 with one double, one home run and four RBI. Bardwell went 4-9 with three runs scored, two doubles and an RBI.
The pitching staff struggled with control, walking 15 batters to 18 strikeouts.
“I thought we did some great things this weekend and there was a lot to be excited about, but at the end of the day we had a good shot of winning two of three and we failed to do so,” said Leighton. “I like what I’ve seen and this group competes!”
Fordham will be in action again next weekend, when they travel to the friendlier climes of California to face off against Long Beach State. The first game will be at 7 p.m. EST on Friday, Feb. 24.