By Benjamin Shinault
FOLLOWING an anguish-filled ending to their 2022 season where the Broncs came up just short of being repeat Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) champions, the Broncs baseball team had a successful start to its 2023 season, winning its opening series game against the Gardner-Webb Runnin’ Bulldogs.
Rider pulled into Shelby, North Carolina, on Feb. 17 and got right to work against the Bulldogs. The weather was perfect for baseball, as it was in the 60’s with bright blue skies. Gardner-Webb was held scoreless through the first three innings by senior pitcher Dylan Hiene who finished with a statline of 5 1/3 innings pitched, three hits, one earned run and two strikeouts.
The Broncs scored the game’s first run thanks to junior infielder Brian Skettini, who singled to right field and allowed senior catcher Socrates Bardatsos to score from second base.
That was the only run that the Broncs were able to get across, as pitcher Bobby Alcock of the Bulldogs was seemingly pulling the strings on the mound for Gardner-Webb.
After tying the game in the bottom half of the fourth inning, it was all Bulldogs after that, as they poured on three more runs in the bottom of the seventh to take the lead. The final score of the opener of the four-game set was 4-1 in favor of Gardner-Webb.
Roughly 24 hours after pristine baseball-playing conditions, the weather dropped by 20 degrees for a brisk game-time temperature of 41 degrees. But the Broncs had no problem with the weather, shutting out the Bulldogs in a 2-0 win on Feb. 18, their first victory of the season.
Graduate student pitcher Frank Doelling was the man on the mound for the Broncs in the second game of the series. After two scoreless outings last season for the Broncs, Doelling got right back into his groove for the game, finishing with a line of 5 1/3 innings pitched, four hits and three strikeouts.
The only two runs by the Broncs came from 2023 Collegiate Baseball Third-Team Preseason All-American team honoree, senior outfielder Brendan O’Donnell. After locating a ball he could turn on, he sailed it over the left-field wall scoring him and senior outfielder Scott Shaw each a run.
“I knew going into that at-bat that they weren’t going to give me much to hit with first base open and two outs,” said O’Donnell. “After getting to a full count and still not seeing a fastball, I knew another off speed pitch was likely coming. I was able to stay through it long enough to get it out to left.”
Graduate student pitcher Danny Kerwin came in at the top of the ninth and got the save for the Broncs, sealing a much-needed victory.
Post-victory, the Broncs slipped back into their all-black uniforms for the third game of the series, the second of a double-header.
One of the 15 freshmen on the Broncs this year, pitcher Clayton Poiley of Ringwood, New Jersey, got the start on the mound for the Broncs.
Poiley went 5 1/3 innings, allowed just two hits and one earned run all while striking out five helpless Bulldogs.
The offense was stellar, as they ripped right through the Bulldogs starting pitching through the first three innings scoring five runs. The scoring started in the second inning with a sacrifice fly to left field which allowed O’Donnell to score. Fast forward one inning after that, the Broncs put up four more runs. Senior first base Luke Lesch doubled, which allowed two runs to score, and O’Donnell and senior infielder Jack Winsett both penciled in a run themselves.
A four-run third inning helped the Broncs finish the game with a 7-3 victory over the Bulldogs.
“We put together a big inning early, giving us a chance to attack the zone with our pitchers. It’s much easier to pitch with a four or five run lead,” said Head Coach Barry Davis.
The Broncs came into the final game of the series with a smile on their faces as they just swept out the double-header the day before and were anxious to get back on the clay, but the Broncs looked plenty comfortable, putting the Bulldogs on a leash, defeating them 17-2.
Before discussing the 17 runs, the two runs the Broncs allowed is also something worth analyzing. Left-handed pitcher, sophomore Brian Young, was the starter for the Broncs on Feb. 19 and was solid. He did give up seven hits, two earned runs and a walk in only 3 2/3 innings, but it was more than enough for the Broncs on Sunday. After pulling Young out of the game in the third, the Broncs allowed only one hit thanks to stellar pitching from senior Alec Sachais, and three freshmen: PJ Craig, Colby McNeely and Jared Greenzang.
Now, the 17 runs, where to begin?
Most of the runs were scored in the fifth inning when the Broncs laid into the Bulldogs by scoring seven runs. Bardatsos was the star as he scored four of the teams 17 runs as well as contributing four hits to the teams total of 19 with one of them being a solo shot to right field.
The embarrassment did not stop there in the fifth inning, as the Broncs went on to score four in the eighth, cementing a win for the Broncs and closing out a successful opening weekend.
The Broncs will now get ready to face off against a powerful Oklahoma squad in a three-game series from Feb. 24 to Feb. 26. All three games will be streamed on ESPN+.