After looking lethargic in last Sunday’s loss to Charleston Southern, the VCU baseball team looked to rejuvenate their record in the season’s early goings by returning to the friendly confines of the Diamond in a four-game set against Fairfield of the Atlantic East Conference.
In game one of the series, VCU looked to have the victory comfortably within their grip heading into the ninth inning on the back of starting pitcher Seth Cutler-Voltz’s (Richmond/Henrico) strong six-inning outing.
However, a nightmare performance from relief pitcher Robbie Andrews (Covington/Alleghany), who had been one of the team’s bright spots in last week’s set with CSU, left the team trailing 5-3 after giving up three runs in the final inning.
VCU responded resoundingly in the bottom of the ninth by scoring two runs before Joe Van Meter (Oyster Bay N.Y. /St. Dominic) hit a near-walk off homerun turned triple, leaving the winning run just 90 feet away from home plate. However, junior Michael Cheatham (Chesterfield/Matoaca) struck out for the second time of game, sending the game into extras.
In the tenth, VCU’s cave-in was completed through two errors and two more runs scored for Fairfield in top of the inning and an unsubstantiated attempt to rally in the bottom to leave the Rams 7-5 losers.
Game two saw freshman pitcher Blake Hauser (Chesterfield/Manchester) attempt to pick up his first win in a VCU jersey after getting a no-decision in his first outing last week.
In the top of the fifth inning, with the two teams knotted up at 2-2, Hauser threw what would have been strike three and the end of the inning for the Rams to Fairfield senior Bill Rafferty. Yet after Rafferty swung and missed on the pitch, VCU catcher Nate Furry (Salem/Salem) let the ball to pass–allowing the Stags to score two runs and take a 4-2 advantage.
In the bottom of the seventh, VCU finally took the game by the scruff of its neck after Taylor Perkins (Dinwiddie/Dinwiddie) drove in three runs with the bases loaded to give VCU a 6-4 advantage.
After adding an insurance run to go up 7-4, the Rams almost blew another late game lead after relief pitcher Joe Van Meter allowed seven consecutive batters to reach base. However, unlike in Friday’s game, VCU’s closer regained his composure to close out the side after giving up only two runs, handing Blake Hauser and VCU a slender 7-6 victory.
In the third game, VCU starting pitcher Mike Graham (Fairfax Station/South County Secondary) made his first start since last week’s disappointing performance in which he allowed four runs in the games first two innings before being replaced. The 6’7’’ southpaw delivered much better results for VCU head coach Paul Keyes against Fairfield, dismissing 12 of the first 13 batters he faced.
Additionally, VCU’s hitters seemed to still be riding the momentum of their victory earlier in the day and got contributions up and down the lineup on the way to taking a 3-0 lead by the end of the third inning. Though Graham would give up two runs in the 5th inning, the Rams would relinquish no more and walked away with a two-game Saturday sweep of Fairfield.
In the series’ rubber match on Sunday, VCU and Fairfield played out the sort of back and forth chess match that’s to be expected from two teams who had played each other three times in the prior 48 hours.
After giving up a 1-0 advantage early, VCU battled back and took a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the second inning after back-to-back sacrifice flies by Greg Fujii (San Jose, Calif./San Jose City College) and Josh Alford (Midlothian/Trinity Episcopal).
Fairfield showed gritty determination and clawed their way back into the contest by tying the score up at 3-3 after five innings. In the sixth, shortstop Doug Otto (Jefferson City Mo. /Helias) threw an errant ball into the Fairfield dug out when trying to throw out a runner at first, resulting in a ground-rule double and the go-head run by Fairfield.
Though VCU tied it back up at four a piece, the Rams would eventually become undone by another ninth inning collapse–this time through two runs off of relief pitcher Ryan Farrar (Mechanicsville/Atlee), who had done a commendable job in relief prior to the late game ghosts coming to haunt VCU once again.
“It’s early on in the season, but we’ve got to do a better job,” said VCU head coach Paul Keyes. “We’ve got to have a better fight.”
The loss splits the series two a piece, leaving VCU with a record of 4-3 after two weeks of play. The Rams will be up against it in their bid to bounce back this week with a game against unbeaten Liberty University on Tuesday and a three-game set against Cleveland State starting Friday.
“We’ve just got to get better,” Keyes said. “We have a young pitching staff but we have a lot of experience in the field; I just wish we were playing that way.”
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