University of Richmond head coach Mark McQueen said he can sense the difference between playing a stranger and playing a former colleague and long time close friend–like VCU head coach Paul Keyes.
“You don’t always enjoy playing your best friend,” said McQueen. “It’s kind of tough, especially when he usually gets best of you.”
McQueen was a pitching coach at VCU from 2001-2006 and though the West End school still leads the all-time series 40-33, VCU had won seven in a row heading into
Tuesday night’s match up at The Diamond.
However, in a thrilling back-and-forth match up that included two lead-changing, four-run innings in the last half of the game, Richmond ended the losing streak by
defeating VCU 8-6 in the Farm Bureau Black & Blue Classic.
Both teams have had up-and-down seasons, but VCU (15-14) came into the game on the back of a second conference series win in as many tries after defeating
William & Mary two games to one last weekend while Richmond (14-13) lost their prior series to Xavier after dropping two of three.
In the top of the first, VCU starting pitcher Mike Graham (Fairfax Station/South County Secondary) continued the team’s trend of allowing early runs after getting into
an early jam. Richmond leadoff hitter Adam McConnell and second-baseman Derek Boelik reached base before Spider super-slugger Billy Barber, on the back of a career high
15-game winning streak, hit a one-run double to give the Spiders a 1-0 lead.
The Black and Gold responded with a run of their own in the bottom installment of the inning through M.L. Morgan (Petersburg/Dinwiddie), who hit a stand up triple
before reaching home on a wild pitch by Spider starter Brian Farrell.
Richmond regained the lead in the third off of another one-run RBI by Barber, who ranked sixth in the A-10 in that category with 32 coming into the night. The Spiders
then added to that lead with two runs in the top of the fifth to go up 4-1 before VCU came back in a big way in the bottom part of the frame.
First, outfielder John Lenherr (Windom, Kansas/Johnson County CC) got things going with a two run double, only the second hit of the night the Rams had managed at
that point. The junior then advanced to third on a passed ball and came home on the same play after the catcher threw an errant ball into the outfield when trying to
tag him out at third.
VCU’s next hero was perhaps their unlikeliest. Catcher Nate Furry, who was hitting a team worst (for players with more than 12 at-bats) .074 on 2-28 hitting
coming into the game, hit a solo home run to make the score 4-3 and forcing McQueen to end Farrell’s night in the process.
VCU then got two hitters on base off Farrell’s replacement, Jay Joines, before Keyes called a daring double-steal with two outs and VCU’s best hitter of late in Joe Van
Meter (Oyster Bay N.Y./Arizona State) at the plate. Van Meter continued his hot streak with a single to center to plate both runners and give the Rams their first lead
of the day after initially falling behind by three runs.
“Our focus was not good early,” Keyes said. “We didn’t do a very good job until we got behind.”
VCU scored another run in the seventh to go up 6-4 before Richmond responded with a four-run inning of their own, this time in the eighth.
After Richmond got two players on base, Keyes replaced Van Meter with right-hander Jonathan Watson (Richmond/L.C. Bird), who was coming off an excellent weekend
after getting a win in one game and partial save in another versus the Tribe.
The L.C. Bird product struggled versus the Spiders, however, and gave up a two-run RBI single to Boelik before walking another batter to load the bases. That’s when
Barber, who had already hit an RBI double, an RBI single, and reached another time on an error, stepped up to bat and got beaned in the back to walk in what would
turn out to be the winning run.
Richmond added one more run in the inning to go up 8-6 to hand the team what turned out being their seventh comeback victory of the season
“It’s been a while since we beaten these guys,” McQueen said. “I’m just glad we could show what kind of team we really do have.”