Winning streak reaches 11, unbeaten in MAAC

By Benjamin Shinault

Power and influence, otherwise known as dominance, can be used to describe Rider baseball’s Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference play so far this season. 

The Broncs welcomed the Siena Saints to Sonny Pittaro Field for a sunny weekend of baseball and swept them right out after putting up 26 runs over three games.

Following the sweep, the Broncs have yet to lose a MAAC game as they sit at 9-0 in conference play. Still riding the high of sweeping yet another conference rival, Rider remained home and welcomed in Lehigh for the semi-final round of the Liberty Classic. With their dominant win over the Mountain Hawks, they are now on a 11-game winning streak, the second longest in the nation, only behind the Ragin’ Cajuns of the University of Louisiana. 

‘We count on him’

Rider got right to work on April 5 when it welcomed the Siena Saints for yet another home stretch. Sophomore right-hander PJ Craig was the one to open the series. Craig, making his seventh start of the season, might have had his best one yet as he finished with career highs in innings pitched, walks allowed and strikeouts. Craig now leads the MAAC in innings pitched.

“He dialed the zone, struck out eight and didn’t walk anybody,” Head Coach Barry Davis said. “[Craig] had a strong command of his pitches straight from the get-go, and when you have that, it’s a good sign.” 

Craig locked all windows and doors for the Saints as they were shut down until the eighth inning when Siena got one to drop down for an RBI single, but by then, the Broncs were already up by nine. The Saints were able to take two more runs on, but they couldn’t complete the vigorous rally.

Rider’s offense scored over 10 runs for the seventh time this season alone. Senior catcher Brian Skettini had three RBIs on the day stemming from a single to center, which scored two, and a muffed throw to first base, which allowed junior catcher Matt Shepherd to cross the plate. Contributions came in from all around the diamond, ultimately leading to the weekend series starting out with a resounding 10-3 win. 

Rider riding high

Fresh off a day of sheer sovereignty, Rider continued that power with a 10-1 win over the Saints. The southpaw junior pitcher Brian Young took to the mound for the Broncs and didn’t look back. Young pitched eight innings, allowed just one earned run and struck out seven Saints. 

Over Young’s last three starts, he has struck out 23 batters and has only allowed five earned runs and four walks. Young has missed some time this season due to an elbow injury, but since his return to the mound, has been one of the top pitchers in the MAAC based on statistics. 

“B.Y. [Young] was good today, he pitched well,” Davis said.

The only run that emerged for Siena in game two of the series was an RBI double in the first inning, but after that, it was an offensive ghost town for the Saints at Sonny Pittaro Field. On the contrary, Rider’s offense was alive and well as it put up 10 runs once again, the second time in as many days. 

A lot of the Broncs’ scoring this season has come through small ball: lots of singles, sacrifice flies and taking advantage of any defensive mistakes. Graduate student first baseman Luke Lesch got the scoring started for Rider when he reached on a fielder’s choice that allowed Shepherd to score.

Lesch, two innings later, got bat on ball once again and singled in graduate student third baseman Jack Winsett to make the score 3-1. From there, the Broncs started to pour it on. Junior outfielder Richie Sica had a good day at the plate as well, as he finished with two RBIs on the day coming from a single to right field.

‘It’s hard to sweep’

It was a sunny, 50-degree day with a slight breeze when Rider and Siena wrapped up their series. Right-handed sophomore pitcher Clayton Poliey, who is seventh in the MAAC in ERA and fourth in runs allowed, stepped to the mound looking to finish off the Saints. Poliey and some bullpen assistance were indeed able to finish the sweep, defeating Siena, 6-1.

Poliey got off to a rough start, as he allowed a single, threw a wild pitch and hit a batter, but after that, he was coasting, going four more innings, striking out five batters and only allowing five hits.

The offense wasn’t as explosive as it was the previous two games, as it only totaled six runs, but it was more than enough due to the Broncs’ ever-impressive bullpen play. Much of the scoring came from Skettini and freshman infielder Matt Leahy, as both of them had two RBIs on the day.

Skettini on the day had three hits, which extended his hitting streak to 10 games and his on-base streak to 19. 

“It feels good and I feel pretty confident in the box, and it helps having a bunch of older guys like Jack, Luke and Matt and everyone around me,” Skettini said. “I’m just seeing the ball really well and putting the ball in play, and when you put the ball in play, good things happen.”

Off to Philadelphia

For the second straight year, the Broncs are headed to Citizens Bank Park, home of the Philadelphia Phillies, to play in the Liberty Bell Classic. In order to get there, the Broncs had to take down the Lehigh Mountain Hawks and they did just that, winning 12-4. 

It was a warm day for the Broncs when they threw on their cranberry uniforms and jogged out onto the diamond. Sophomore pitcher Chris Montone was given the rights to start it off for Rider, but he had a rough go at it as he couldn’t get through three innings, walked four and allowed three runs. 

Luckily for Montone and the rest of the Broncs pitching staff, Rider’s offense was putting some paint on the baseballs as they totaled 12 runs and 11 hits. Rider couldn’t rummage anything in the bottom of the first but were able to score in every other inning, especially in the fifth when they put up five runs on the board.

The scoring started in the second inning when Leahy hit an infield fly to shortstop with the bases juiced to get the Broncs first run across. From there, the flood gates opened. Skettini hit a solo homerun in the next inning and Leahy put one over the fence as well in the sixth inning, giving Leahy three RBI’s on the day.

Rider will now hit the road for the first time since March 24 to take on the NJIT Islanders in a single game set. First pitch will be on ESPN+ on April 10 at 6 p.m.

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