It was an all business, no beaches spring break for the baseball team this past week, as the Red headed south to face off against top tier competition. After losing its first game to Appalachian State, the Red (11-5) bounced back to beat the Mountaineers and then went on to win six straight games, sweeping perennial powerhouses Davidson and Villanova.Now sitting on a seven-game winning streak after a slow start to the season, the Red is playing with at a new level, according to senior infielder Brenton Peters.“I think we’re really confident and playing really loosely lately,” he said. “A prime example is in a game against Appalachian State, a top program in the country … we’re playing them real tight and half the guys in the dugout are playing the name game in between innings. They all had complete confidence in the team coming back and taking the lead or holding the lead.”After coughing up a three-run lead in the 9-4 loss in the opener against the Mountaineers, the Red was able to turn its luck around in the second game of the doubleheader. Sophomore catcher Matt Hall led the offensive attack — which exploded with 15 runs — going five for six with four RBIs. The Red put up eight more in the final game against the Mountaineers. With one swing, senior outfielder Spenser Souza accounted for half of that run production as he belted a grand slam in the ninth inning to give the Red the come from behind victory.Though offense was key in the first half of break, the Red’s bats started to quiet down later in the week. After a 10-9 victory over Davidson that featured sophomore Kevin Tatum’s first two homeruns of his collegiate career, the Red only scored a total of 13 runs in the final stretch.However, pitching and defense carried the Red in those contests, giving the squad wins in all four games by narrow margins.“The pitching staff has been a major pillar for us, we’ve been really strong with young guys and older guys that mesh so well,” Peters said. “Other teams have to be so frustrated because these guys pound the strike zone and get out after out after out.”Junior leftie Zach McCulley did just that in a 3-2 win against Davidson. In his first start with the Red, McCulley went five strong innings, allowing five hits and two runs while fanning four. Freshman Michael Byrne came in to mop things up, going four innings. He gave up no runs on just one hit for his first save of the season.In the opener against Villanova, sophomore Nick Busto continued the strong outings on the mound. He improved to 2-0 on the season going six innings and allowing two runs. After the Red took a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning off an RBI single by junior shortstop Tom D’Alessandro, senior Houston Hawley came in to pitch a 1-2-3 ninth inning and shut the door.Though the Red’s staff kept the team in these close games, the defense also provided steadfast support in the background.“Our defense has drastically improved and kept us in games and gotten us out of some tight spots,” Peters said. “When no one is making errors, no one is getting on base when they shouldn’t, so when our pitchers get a ground ball or fly ball, they know they’re going to get an out. They can last a lot longer and we can battle back on offense.”In the second game against Villanova, four runs was all the Red needed as sophomore Brian McAfee, senior T.J. Parthemer and sophomore Eric Upton combined for a three-hit shutout with 13 strikeouts. It was McAfee’s first victory of the season and seventh of his career.Though the Red’s offense was not quite as potent in the final games against Davidson and Villanova, Peters said the team is not particularly worried.“We played in some weird conditions. In at least three of the four fields the wind was blowing directly in and probably some balls that would normally go over the fence got caught in the wind and dropped for a can of corn for the left fielder,” Peters said.As a team, the Red’s offensive numbers are also down from last year, with only Hall hitting over .300.“The numbers are fairly low, but I don’t think it shows the quality of at bats that we’ve been having,” Peters said.The lineup has also taken a hit with the loss of junior outfielder Chris Cruz, who hit 12 homeruns last season. According to Peters, getting Cruz back at some point in the season will give the offense a significant boost.“It’s always a big factor when you get a guy like him back who can put up 12 homeruns; he has the ability to put any type of pitch over the fence,” he said. “Once he’s back in the middle of the lineup to solidify things, people can start to take more bases because no one wants to throw him fastballs anymore. He’ll be a huge spark for our offense when he gets back.”The Red comes home to Hoy Field for the first time today to face off against Albany in two midweek games before kicking off Ivy play against Brown this weekend. According to Peters, the Red has used midweek games as preparation in the past, but is looking at things a little differently this year.“That’s not our mentality anymore. It’s time to start to take advantage of those games and keep us rolling into Ivy play,” he said.
Original Author: Scott Chiusano