Sweeping the series against a first place team would be a monumental statement, junior pitcher Andrew Blum said. Though the baseball team did not win all three games of their weekend series against the Saint Louis University Billikens, the Spiders showed that they could be successful against a very successful team.
Coming into the weekend, Saint Louis boasted an in-conference record of 11-1, and by winning two of three games, the Spiders became the first Atlantic-10 team to win a series against them this year, despite scoring in only two innings in three days.
On Friday, the Spiders won 8-7, though the Billikens took the lead early. They scored six runs off starting pitcher sophomore Zak Sterling, who continued his recent trend of lasting only a few innings into a start. He stayed in the game for two and one-third innings, and gave up three walks and seven hits, two of which were home runs.
Freshman Peter Bayer pitched in relief of Sterling, and was fantastic, coach Mark McQueen said. He pitched four and two-thirds innings, and gave up one run with six strikeouts, striking out three batters in a row in the top of the fifth.
After a few rough outings lately, Bayer said it had felt good to bounce back.
“When I have innings when everything is working, I feel like I can dominate,” Bayer said. “And that’s exactly what I did.”
The Spiders’ offense was quiet except for during the fourth inning, when the team scored all eight runs. Seniors Jake Mayers and Adam Forrer and freshman Tyler Beckwith all singled to load the bases, and then patience paid off to keep the momentum going, as juniors JB Gadd and Mike Small both walked with two outs to bring home two runs.
Freshman Tanner Stanley continued his dominance on offense by hitting a triple and scoring on a throwing error to clear the bases and add three runs to the total. Forrer tripled in his second at-bat of the inning to tack on another run, before the inning ended on a Bret Williams strikeout.
Bayer said his teammates wouldn’t normally expect to win a game in which they fell behind 0-6 so early, but McQueen was pleased with the way the team handled those expectations.
“I told them I was proud of them today because no one was freaking out in the dugout,” McQueen said. “They showed real maturity. Even though we only scored in one inning, I’m proud of the way they handled that one inning.”
Stanley was the top overall offense-producer of the day, going 3-for-5 at the plate. He thought taking the first game from a team that wasn’t accustomed to losing very often would make the second game of the series more intense, he said.
“Tomorrow [Saint Louis is] going to come up ready to fight,” Stanley said. “They put up six runs. We put up eight. That’s kind of a slap in the face.”
The Billikens did come out eager to win on Saturday, scoring right away on a double from Mike Vigliarolo, the Billikens’ first baseman who went 8-for-12 on the weekend with three home runs. But the Spiders’ pitching, led by starter Blum, quelled the Saint Louis offense for the remainder of the game, and Richmond won 3-1.
Blum was tremendous, McQueen said. He pitched seven and one-third innings, gave up one run on nine hits, walked one and struck out five.
Though the offense didn’t have an explosive inning like on Friday, it did enough to secure the win, while Blum kept the score close for the Spiders.
Forrer led the offense on Saturday, going 2-for-3 with a home run, an intentional walk and two runs batted in. Beckwith also went 2-for-4 with two doubles.
Junior pitcher Andrew Brockett earned his second save in as many days on Saturday. Though he had pitched the final two innings of Friday’s game, getting all six outs without surrendering a hit, he threw only about 18 pitches in that game, which made McQueen comfortable calling on him for a second day in a row, he said.
“[Being a closer] is his role, and he’s the best we have,” McQueen said. “I would be mistaken if I didn’t go to him in that situation against a first place team.”
On Sunday, the Spiders lost the final contest of the series 0-2 in a remarkably quick one hour and 58 minute pitchers’ duel. More than four batters never came to bat in a half inning.
Mayers pitched eight innings, and gave up seven hits and two runs with seven strikeouts. But the Billikens’ pitcher Clay Smith was just that much better, throwing the complete game and surrendering only two hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.
Mayers said Smith was one of the toughest pitchers the Spiders had faced all year.
“Both pitchers were unbelievable,” McQueen said. “Nine out of 10 times, if Jake throws like that we’re going to win.”
After winning the series, the Spiders moved into fourth place in the A-10 standings, in a tie with Saint Joseph’s University. They will play their next in-conference series against Temple University at 3 p.m. on Friday at Pitt Field.