By Jack McLoone
It was a meeting of two New York teams looking to escape the cold in North Carolina this past weekend, with Fordham Baseball taking the field against the Canisius College Golden Griffins, who usually play their home games in Buffalo, NY. The Rams struggled in their final warm-weather road trip, coming away with just one win in the four games played. The Rams are now 2-8.
“I think we are learning a lot from these games and dealing with failure is one of the things that I think the guys are learning,” said head coach Kevin Leighton. “We have been in a lot of games but haven’t been able to put it all together as many times as we would like, but we can’t be too concerned with the result and we have to find ways to correct the things that we have or haven’t done that have hurt us.”
Fordham opened the series with a 5-3 loss on Friday. Canisius started the scoring in the second inning without recording a hit. Freshman second baseman Justin Machado committed an error on a ground ball off the bat of Joseph Preziuso. After getting the next batter to fly out, sophomore pitcher Mike Cowell hit John Conti with a pitch. The runners then moved up to second and third after a failed pickoff attempt by Wright. He got a strikeout on the next batter, but then a balk brought in Preziuso from third, giving Canisius a 1-0 lead.
The Rams answered back in the top of the third. Machado atoned for his fielding blunder, drawing a walk to lead off the inning. He moved to second on a groundout from senior center fielder Jason Lundy and then came home by a double from sophomore catcher Justin Bardwell. Junior shortstop Luke Stampfl continued his hot start by stroking a double to plate Bardwell, giving the Rams a 2-1 lead.
An RBI single from freshman right fielder Billy Godrick in the top of the fourth put the Rams up 3-1, but the Griffins got that one back in the bottom of the inning to make it 3-2.
The Griffins took advantage of the Rams failing to bring in a run with bases loaded, no one out in the top of the fifth by hanging two runs on junior pitcher David Wright in the bottom of the frame. This gave the Griffins a 4-3 lead, and they added one more in the bottom of the eighth to bring the game to its final score of 5-3.
Fordham notched its only win of the weekend in the first game of the doubleheader the next day. Canisius opened the scoring off of sophomore starter Anthony DiMeglio in the second inning thanks in large part to a wild pitch that put Christ Conley on third, where he was driven in on a Brandon Nicholson sacrifice fly.
Just like the day before, the Rams answered back with a run of their own. After Donadio reached with a double, senior left fielder Ryan Mahoney drove him in with a single to right field.
DiMeglio kept Canisius off the board until the fifth inning, when he hurt himself with another wild pitch. After giving up a double to Zach Garick, DiMeglio’s wild pitch moved him up to third, where a bloop single from Cyrus Senior drove him in for a 2-1 Canisius lead.
DiMeglio’s sixth inning did not fare any better. After walking the leadoff batter on four pitches, he gave up a single and then misplayed a bunt, loading the bases with no outs. The next batter, William Krull, literally tagged him, hitting a comebacker that DiMeglio was able to knock down. He got the out at first, but the runner on third scored.
Melendez came on in relief of DiMeglio following that play and, after giving up a four-pitch walk to the first batter he faced as well, gave up an RBI single for the fourth run charged to DiMeglio on the day, which put the Golden Griffins up 4-1.
However, the Rams were finally the beneficiaries of the mistakes in the bottom of the inning. After a Stampfl groundout, Bardwell busted out of the box on a pop fly that was lost in the sun by the second baseman Nicholson, allowing him to end up on second. After a Donadio pop out, Bardwell advanced to third on a wild pitch. Another error on Nicholson, this time a line drive from Kozuch that tipped off his glove, brought Bardwell in for the run.
The Golden Griffins then went to the bullpen for Michael Ginther. He probably wishes they chose a different arm from the bullpen, as the first batter he faced, Mahoney, immediately drove the ball out of the park down the right field line to knot the game at four.
The Rams found themselves trailing again by the middle of the seventh thanks to more mistakes, this time a throwing error by Donadio and a wild pitch from Melendez. However, they tied the game back up again in the bottom of the eighth with a single from Bardwell, who then scored from first on a double from Donadio.
Freshman pitcher Brandon Martin held Canisius off the board in the top of the ninth and the Rams took care of business in the bottom of the frame. Sophomore Reiss Knehr pinch-hit and reached on an error, moved to third on a groundout and then Goulard drove him in with a walk-off single to right. The Rams’ 5-4 win was their only of the trip.
The second game of the doubleheader was much less dramatic and resulted in another loss for the Rams. Knehr looked incredibly sharp through the first four innings, twirling seven strikeouts and allowing just one hit. After getting the first two batters out on a fly out and his eighth strikeout, he could not close out the inning. A walk and back-to-back singles plated the first run of the game. After another walk loaded the bases, he was relieved in favor of freshman Kyle Martin, who promptly allowed all three inherited runners to score on a double. That gave Canisius a 4-0 lead that would last to the end, as the Rams were held to just three hits over the seven-inning game by J.P. Stevenson.
The final game of the series on Sunday was a true rubber match, and required an extra inning to complete. Graduate student pitcher Jimmy Murphy was the tough-luck loser, tossing a career-high 11 strikeouts over 9.1 innings, giving up just two runs – only one earned – on four hits.
The Rams scored first in the third inning on a sacrifice fly from Lundy that scored Mahoney. The score remained there until the seventh inning, where two errors from Kozuch at third and a single loaded the bases with no outs. Murphy induced a groundball, but the double play still allowed the run to score.
The Rams had an opportunity to take the lead back in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings, with a runner reaching third in each of the innings. However, Fordham never got the runner in, including back-to-back pop outs after a one-out triple from Mahoney in the bottom of the ninth.
Murphy finally hit his breaking point after coming back out for the tenth inning. After striking out the first batter, the next two batters reached on a single and an error by Machado. After working to a 0-2 count on the next batter, Murphy threw two wild pitches, allowing the game-winning run to cross the plate.
“Just about every game this weekend was very tight, and in those games, mistakes get magnified, and unfortunately we made some mistakes that cost us a couple wins,” said Leighton.
The Ram pitching staff accumulated 19 walks over the four games, putting their season total already at 48, while their season strikeout total is just 68. Their 1.40 strikeout-to-walk ratio is 233rd in the country out of 294.
“It is something that we emphasize on a daily basis with the guys, to challenge hitters,” said Leighton. “I think sometimes there are ‘good’ walks, and many times there are bad walks, but I also think in our first [six] games we faced some tough hitters that were able to lay off some tough pitches which may have [led] to a walk. Our guys aren’t happy with it, and I know they will continue to work to get where we need to be.”
They will need to pick up their offense as well, with their .249 batting average and .302 on-base percentage ranking them 188th and 264th in the country.
Fordham will look for a bounce-back when it finally plays at home after a long time away. It will open a nine-game home slate with a double-header Battle of the Bronx against Manhattan, with the first game starting at 2 p.m. on March 8.
“Being home is always nice, and we are fortunate to have a facility that allows us to workout and play more home games then some schools,” said Leighton. “Hitting last is also a distinct advantage and I know the guys are always excited to play at Houlihan Park.”