Clutch hitting gives Ridgemen first back-to-back wins of season

Junior Joshua Parks (University of Chicago) delivered a two-run double in the seventh inning, giving the Rochester Ridgemen the lead for good in a 5-1 win over the Genesee Rapids in New York Collegiate Baseball League action Thursday night at Basket Road Field.

The Ridgemen loaded the bases in the seventh thanks to a walk to junior Dillon McTague (Colorado Christian University), a single for freshman Jonathan Sabino (Coppin State University) and a walk to senior Christian Bitar (Regis University). This brought Parks to the plate with two outs. After fouling off his first two pitches, Parks was able to poke the ball into right field, bringing in both McTague and Sabino.

“Coming up with the bases loaded, you never want to leave them empty, especially in a tied ballgame,” Parks said. “So [I] came up looking for a fastball to hit, got one [and] missed it. [I] saw another one, it was probably out of the zone, missed it again, and then just tried to grind it out. I’ve struggled with some strikeouts recently and in the last couple of games I’ve tried to turn that around. I saw another fastball, got a little out in front and got it off the cap, but it fell in.”

Sophomore Daniel Smith (University of Chicago) started on the mound for the Ridgemen, holding the Rapids to one run on five hits and five walks, while striking out four in six-and-two-thirds innings.

“It was a great team win. I was just trying to throw strikes this time, which I’ve been struggling with recently,” Smith said. “I did it and the defense made some plays behind me.”

The Rapids took an early lead, going up 1-0 in the third inning. Sophomore Josh Hayner (Messiah College) led off the inning with a triple to right field, setting up an opportunity which junior AJ Nitzschke (Northwestern College) later took advantage of. With one out in the inning, Nitzschke stepped to the plate and drove a sacrifice fly into center field, allowing Hayner to score easily.

But, the Ridgemen responded in the bottom half of the third inning, adding a run to tie the game. Junior Connor Dunn (University of Puget Sound) reached base with a lead-off walk, advancing to second on a wild pitch and third on a groundout to the shortstop. This gave senior TJ Lanning (Trinity College) the chance to hit a sacrifice fly to right field, plating Dunn to tie the game.

It took all the way until the seventh for the tie to be broken, but Parks’ double did the job. But, the Ridgemen were not done scoring.

In the eighth inning, the Ridgemen added two insurance runs to create some breathing room. Sophomore Andrew Bayard (Westmont College) started off with a single to right field, followed by a single for Dunn. The runners moved to second and third on a sacrifice bunt, bringing up Lanning. He worked a 2-2 count and slapped the next pitch into center, with both runners coming around to score.

The Rapids got a runner to third in the ninth, but could not drive them in as the Ridgemen secured the victory.

Ridgemen manager Justin Dillard said it was the team’s best game of the year and most complete performance.

“That has to be one of the best wins we’ve had all year as far as just playing a clean game,” Dillard said. “Obviously, pitching, limiting to one run, playing great defense, stringing together two at bats with really two strikes. Strikeouts have been something where that’s been a third of our outs for the season. So two-strike hitting was, I believe, the difference in the game.”

Rapids head coach Joe Mina said the game came down to lack of offense for his team.

“We didn’t hit tonight, left a lot of guys on base. We’ve been doing that this past week,” Mina said. “Team’s go through that. I have to give it to the Ridgemen, they pitched well tonight and they beat us fair and square.”

The Ridgemen offense found success, despite not recording a base hit between the second and sixth inning, thanks to the Rapids’ starting pitcher, senior Victor Cavalieri (Houghton College).

Cavalieri held the Ridgemen to one run on one hit and four walks in six innings, striking out three.

“A lot of off-speed today, the curveball was on [and] fastball was running really well,” Cavalieri said. “So the combination of those two pitches kept batters off-balance today.”

The Ridgemen improve to 7-20 on the year, while the Rapids’ record drops to 12-18.

The Ridgemen will play Friday on the road against the Sherrill Silversmiths at 5 p.m.

The Rapids next game will be Friday at 5 p.m., hitting the road for a three-game set against the Wellsville Nitros.

Stellar pitching leads Ridgemen past Rome

by Mike DeSanto

Sophomore Josh Stella (Hillsdale College) held the Rome Generals to two runs (one earned) on four hits and three walks in seven innings, earning the 4-2 win for the Rochester Ridgemen in New York Collegiate Baseball League action.

“We had one little shaky inning there, but [I] felt like I was getting ahead of guys and executing pitches,” Stella said. “We played good defense behind me again. I felt good out there and it was just a big win.”

Stella, a right-hander, struck out eight hitters over those seven innings, giving him the second-most strikeouts on the team with 21. Senior Tanner Pruett (Crown College) leads the Ridgemen with 26 strikeouts.

“Just getting ahead, being able to mix my pitches and throw all three pitches for strikes was huge,” Stella said.

Stella also had a balanced fly out to ground out ratio, forcing six fly outs and five ground outs.

Ridgemen head coach Justin Dillard said Stella can always be counted on by his teammates to stay in the game mentally, not matter the situation.

“He’s just a competitor. He likes to toe the rubber, look down and not allow anybody to beat him,” Dillard said. “Whether he has good stuff that day, bad stuff that day, it doesn’t matter. He’s mind strong.”

Senior Casey Claflin (Shawnee State University) entered in the eighth inning, keeping the Generals scoreless and hitless while walking three and striking out two over two innings to earn the six-out save.

The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the fourth, when the Ridgemen broke through. Junior Josh Parks (University of Chicago) singled to centerfield to open the inning and advanced to second when sophomore Seth Hagan (Centre College) walked. The Ridgemen then executed a double steal, but the throw from home went wide of the third baseman, rolling into foul territory and allowing Parks to score the first run of the game, while Hagan reached second safely.

However, the Generals answered back in the fifth inning with a pair of runs to take the lead. Junior Carmine Giordano (Franklin Pierce University) led off the inning with a double, but was forced out on a fielder’s choice, though junior Caleb Kerbs (University of Maine Orono) was safe at first. This set up freshman Jake Balderston (Western New England College) for a game-tying RBI triple into the right-centerfield gap. Balderston scored in the next at bat, which resulted in a sacrifice fly out to centerfield for freshman Vincent Martin (University of Massachusetts-Lowell).

“Honestly, I was looking for a fastball,” Balderston said. “[He] threw me a pretty good one, [I] tried to get the barrel on it, hit it hard somewhere. They were playing me a little shallow, I’m not a guy who hits a lot of bombs, I’m not a big guy, but it was nice to hit one in the gap and score that run.”

But, the Ridgemen were not kept silent for long, as they responded in the bottom of the half to tie the game. Sophomore Brooks Pitaniello (Harding University) drew a walk, his second of the game, to start off the inning. Sophomore Sean Rooney (Point Loma Nazarene University) then stepped to the plate and struck a double into the right-centerfield gap, with Pitaniello speeding around the bases to score the game-tying run all the way from first.

“I just got a pitch to hit and put a good swing on it,” Rooney said. “I hit it, I was like ‘oh shoot, that ball’s in the gap.’ I did what I could and luckily it worked out.”

The Ridgemen’s third, and eventual game-winning run, came in the seventh inning. Parks got on thanks to a single with two outs, stealing second with Hagan at the plate. Hagan then grounded the ball to third base, seemingly spelling the end of the inning. However, the throw to first bounced into the turf, getting by first base and giving Parks the opportunity to score as the go ahead run.

Senior Ethan Luna (Southwestern University) added a pinch hit, RBI single, dropping the ball in between the shortstop and left fielder, in the eighth inning to plate freshman Jonathan Sabino (Coppin State University). Sabino had previously tripled to lead off the inning.

The Ridgemen then locked down the ninth, despite the Generals getting two runners on, to secure the victory.

Junior Tyler Crane (Nichols College) got the start on the mound for the Generals, pitching four-and-one-third innings with two runs (one earned), one hit and five walks surrendered, striking out three.

“I’m not normally one for walking a bunch of guys,” Crane said. “That was a huge part of not executing on the mound. I still kept it to a run, but at the end of it, it didn’t help our cause.”

Crane said the walks stemmed from difficulty executing his usual strategy.

“I’m more of a down in the zone kind of worker,” Crane said. “[I] wasn’t getting those calls, so I kept trying to pound it, try to get those calls, and then I started skipping balls. I just wasn’t happening, so I had to try to change my approach when I got on the mound.”

Dillard said the team was able to build upon previous issues and put together what was necessary for the win.

“Putting the ball in play with two strikes, that changed the game,” Dillard said. “So [Parks] in the seventh had a great at bat, extended an at bat deep into a count, put a ball out into left-centerfield, ended up getting to second and on the wheel play stole third, they threw it into left field and gave us the lead. Then in the last inning, all three balls put into play were [with] two strikes.”

The Generals’ head coach, Matt Burns, said his team did not perform well in any way, allowing the Ridgemen to take the win.

“It wasn’t very good. We didn’t come out ready to win,” Burns said. “We came out ready to play, but not ready to win, didn’t execute any facet of the game and that’s what happens. You lose.”

The Ridgemen improve to 5-14 on the season, while the Generals fall to 8-9.

The Ridgemen will next play on Wednesday when they hit road to take on the Syracuse Spartans at 5:15 p.m.

The Generals will travel to Wellsville Thursday to take on the Nitros at 5 p.m.

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