Rams in first place after Towson taming

Adam Stern
Sports Editor

At first glance, VCU’s overall record of 18-14 (a 56-percent winning percentage) speaks mostly to an improving yet still un-finished product from a team that is trying to reverse what’s been a downward descent since last winning the CAA Championship in 2007.

However despite an unimpressive 10-13 non-conference record, VCU is near perfect in CAA play and, after sweeping Towson this past weekend in a three-game series, sits atop the conference standings more than a third of the way through the season slate with a record of 8-1.

With the wins, the Rams are now two games ahead of second-place JMU, who were picked to finish first in the CAA pre-season poll (while VCU was picked to finish seventh), and also picked up their third series win in conference play in as many tries this season. The Rams have swept two of those three series, and in Friday’s series-opening victory, notched only their third shutout of the season.

That game was dominated from start to finish by Rams right-hander Seth Cutler-Voltz (Richmond/Henrico), who pitched a five-hit, no-run doozy; his second complete game of the season and his first shutout in collegiate baseball.

Cutler-Voltz was near perfect to begin the game and indeed retired 10 of the first 11 batters he faced. However the Rams didn’t take advantage of their strong pitching until sophomore Brett Mikionis (Powhatan/Powhatan) hit a solo homerun in the top of the fourth, his third of the season, to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.

VCU exploded to a 5-0 lead after plating four more runs in the fourth. The Rams loaded the bases before Mikionis’ high-school teammate Paul Nice (Powhatan/Powhatan) followed up with an RBI single. Redshirt junior Joe Van Meter (Oyster Bay N.Y./Arizona State), who has now hit for at least a single in 15 of the last 16 games, then scored on a wild pitch before junior Michael Cheatham (Chesterfield/Matoaca) drove in two more.

Towson threatened to score their first run in the bottom frame of the sixth as they loaded the bases for the second time in the game, but Cutler-Voltz surrounding cast fielded ably again to help preserve what would turn out to be a ten-run shutout after VCU added five more runs in the last three innings.

In the second game, freshman Kyle Haynes (Stafford/Mountain View), who was excellent in last week’s 1-0 shutout of William & Mary in the series’ rubber match, continued where he left off and got his third win of the season after allowing only two runs in seven innings pitched in a 7-4 victory.

On the other hand, Towson’s starting pitcher Nate Curd (0-6), continued his horrendous start to the season by picking up his sixth consecutive loss after giving up six runs off of eight hits in the first two innings before being replaced.

VCU got two runs in the top of the first inning off RBIs from senior Richie Gonzalez (Caguas, Puerto Rico/PRBA) and senior Doug Otto (Jefferson City, Mo. /Johnson County Community College). The Rams added another in the second and three more in the third to go up 6-0.

Towson finally broke what had been 23 straight innings in conference play without giving up a run by the Rams when Austin Harclerode hit an RBI single off Haynes to make it 6-1 in the bottom of the fifth.

The Tigers didn’t muster another run till the seventh when they got one run but more importantly left the bases loaded to leave the score at 7-2. Though they scored two more before all was said and done, VCU reliever Robbie Andrews (Covington/Alleghany) still managed the save to give VCU their third series win of the season, regardless of what was to happen in the final game Sunday.

The final game was certainly closer than the prior two, but ultimately the result was still the same as VCU walked out 9-8 victors.

Van Meter got the start on the mound for the Rams in the final game, but lasted just over two innings before yielding to VCU’s relief trifecta of Johnathan Watson (Richmond/L.C. Bird), Kyle Pelchy (Yorktown/Grafton) and Andrews. Out of the three, Pelchy ended up with the win, his first of the season, after giving up one run on three hits in three innings while Andrews got his tied-for-league-best sixth save of the season.

VCU’s bullpen combined had only seven saves in the entirety of last season, and with their eighth win of the conference slate, the Rams have now already tied the amount of wins the team achieved in the entirety of the 2009 campaign.

The Black and Gold, who are in the midst of their longest road stretch of the season with 14 of the next 18 away from home, will return to the field Wednesday when they travel to cross-town rivals Richmond, who defeated the Rams 8-6 last week at The Diamond.

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