By Jack McLoone
Fordham Baseball once again escaped to the warmer climes of the South, but this time did so to play in-conference competition, the George Mason Patriots. The Rams lost the first two matchups but won the final game of the series on Sunday, putting their record at 8-11.
The Rams entered the weekend on a four-game winning streak, having swept Sacred Heart the weekend of March 17 and beating Iona in a one-off game on March 21.
That streak was snapped in the first game of the series, which the Rams dropped 2-0. For the second time in his last three starts, graduate student pitcher Jimmy Murphy was the tough-luck loser. It was the third time in a row he reached at least eight innings of work, though this time it was his first complete game of his career. Both of the runs he allowed were unearned.
George Mason plated their only runs of the game in the sixth inning. After getting the first two batters out, Murphy gave up back-to-back singles. He then induced a groundball, but senior third baseman Matthew Kozuch was unable to come up with it and was charged with a fielding error instead of ending the inning. A single from the next batter plated both of the runs.
Murphy’s game was mirrored by the George Mason starter Tyler Zombro. Both gave up just six hits and no earned runs. Murphy also added seven strikeouts and one walk.
“Jimmy has been huge for us over his last three starts and having a guy like that who you know if you get three or four runs, you should win, is big,” said head coach Kevin Leighton.
Game two on Saturday was more of a slugfest, and the Patriots came out swinging against Rams’ sophomore starter Mike Cowell.
After a 1-2-3 inning to start the game, Cowell got into trouble in the second. With the bases loaded and one out, he gave up a double to right center that plated two.
In the next inning, he was once again rung up with one out, this time by a three-run home run. That ended his day at just 2.1 innings pitched with five earned runs.
The Rams scored their first runs of the series in the top of the fifth inning on a solo home run from senior centerfielder Jason Lundy and an RBI single from sophomore second baseman Reiss Knehr.
However, the Patriots got both runs back in the bottom of the frame off of freshman Marc Bisogno, putting them up 7-2.
The Rams put up two more runs in the top of the seventh on a two-out, two-run double from sophomore catcher Justin Bardwell, but the Rams’ bats went quiet from there, eventually losing 8-4.
Kozuch looked like he may have started to break out of his season-long slump, going 2-5 in the leadoff spot instead of his usual spot in the six hole.
In the getaway game on Sunday, the Fordham bats finally came alive to the tune of a 6-5 victory.
In the second inning, with runners on second and third and one out, freshman right fielder Jake Baker snuck a single past the shortstop that plated senior designated hitter Mark Donadio and Lundy. After moving up on a balk by pitcher Bryce Nightengale, Kozuch continued his upward trend by singling him home to put the Rams up 3-0.
The Patriots got to the starter Knehr in the bottom half of the third for one run, but the Rams answered right back with one of their own in the top of the fourth. Once again, it was Kozuch driving in Baker with a single to right, making it 4-1 Rams headed to the bottom of the fourth.
“I think Matt was a little more aggressive this week and that helped him stay out of pitchers counts,” said Leighton. “He is a patient hitter and that is also what makes him a good hitter but sometimes as a hitter you can’t always wait for the perfect pitch, you have to hit a good pitch.”
Things unspooled for Knehr in the home half of the frame. After hitting the leadoff batter and getting a strikeout, a double and a walk loaded the bases. With a 1-2 count, he gave up a two-run single, pulling the Patriots within one. Despite striking out the next batter, a hit batsman once again loaded the bases, and then he walked in the tying run.
The Rams took back the lead in the top of the seventh off of an RBI single from Donadio. Donadio then had a sacrifice fly to plate junior first baseman Brian Goulard for an insurance run, which it turned out they needed.
Freshman pitcher Alvin Melendez came in to relieve Knehr . In the 9th, he gave up a leadoff double, and the runner moved to third after a groundout. While he gave up sacrifice fly to bring George Mason within one, he was able to strike out the next batter to give Fordham its lone win of the weekend. Melendez has been impressive on the mound, with the sacrifice fly the only run he has given up in 9.2 innings of work.
“It wasn’t the start to conference that we wanted but we did a lot of things well in all three games that we can hopefully build on,” said Leighton. “Baseball can be frustrating because you can square a ball up perfectly and still make an out.”
The Rams will next be in action at home against La Salle for a three-game series starting on Friday, March 31 at 3 p.m.