Baseball rebounds after loss to No. 1 Virginia

Sophmore Cody Acker scored twice aginst U.Va., fist in the bottom of the first inning and bottom of the ninth inning April 22. Photo by Jess Lee.

Alonzo Small
Contributing Writer

Three days after the VCU baseball team dropped an extra-inning affair to No. 1 University of Virginia, the Rams bounced back with a 5-2 victory against the University of Rhode Island on Friday, April 26.

VCU entered the ninth inning tied, but used senior Bill Cullen’s three-run home run to secure its 29th victory of the season.

The homer was Cullen’s second of the game and pitcher Thomas Gill picked up his third victory of the season after throwing three shutout innings in relief of starter Matt Blanchard.

Tim Caputo of Rhode Island opened the game doubling to left field and URI’s Mike Corbin followed with a RBI double down the third base line to take an early 1-0 lead. 

In the bottom of the second, Rhode Island’s R.J. Warnock singled to first with two outs. Warnock stole second and third base, and scored the next at bat, thanks to a VCU throwing error.

Down 2-0, the Rams answered with Cullen’s first homer of the game in the top of the fifth.

In the eighth, VCU senior Trevor Marino reached on a fielder’s choice, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Sophomore Cody Acker singled up the middle causing Marino to advance to third. A throwing error by a URI shortstop leveled the game 2-2.

After senior Joey Cujas singled to first in the top of the ninth inning, Chris Ayers reached base off another Rhode Island error. Cullen was the next hitter and hit a home run over the right field wall giving VCU a 5-2 lead, it’s first of the game.

Rhode Island loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth, but junior Matt Lees’ fifth save of the year (17th career) ended the home team’s comeback attempt and secured the Rams’ 29th victory of the season.

Stiffler praised his team’s resiliency and its ability to capitalize on Rhode Island’s errors.

“In the middle innings we were able to take advantage of a couple of their mistakes,” Stiffler said. “Then Bill (Cullen) was able to give us two big swings and those home runs proved to be the difference in the game.”

Cullen’s multiple home run game helped him retake the team lead in RBI (43) and long balls with four. Cullen’s batting against Rhode Island also marked the second time a Ram has had multiple homers in a game this season. The first was Machin against the University of Richmond on April 11.

The remaining two games of the three-game series were played over the weekend but results were not final as of press time.

Although the Rams were able to fight off the pesky comeback by URI on Friday, VCU was the team playing comeback against top-ranked U.Va. on Tuesday, April 24.

Virginia’s Branden Cogswell scored when Joey McCarthy singled to centerfield early in the first inning. The Rams responded with two scores in the bottom of the first by Acker and Machin to take a 2-1 lead.

Cavalier junior Derek Fisher hit a solo homer to right field to even the game at 2-2 in the top of the second. Both teams were held scoreles in the third and fourth innings before U.Va.’s Daniel Pinero led off the sixth with a single to left field. After maneuvering to second and stealing third, McCarthy flied out to right field and plated Pinero for a 3-2 Virginia lead.

In the top of the eighth, Virginia capitalized on a Pinero sacrifice fly to center field with bases loaded. Junior Brandon Downes ran across the plate for a 4-2 Virginia lead.

VCU returned the favor when Cullens lined an RBI single through the right side with bases loaded to pull the Rams within one, 4-3.

In the ninth, VCU paired an Acker walk and Cujas single to place two runners on base. Following a Machin walk to load the bases, a U.Va. error allowed Acker to score and even the game at 4-4.

Cavaliers center fielder Downes led off the 10th inning with a solo shot over the left field wall to recapture the lead for Virginia, 5-4, and win the game.

VCU loaded the bases in the final three frames of the contest, including the bottom half of the 10th inning, but U.Va. held on to win the game and give the Rams their 10th loss of the season.

After the game, Stiffler said he  was disappointed with the results, but looked at the positives from the game’s final innings.

“The guys did a great job scoring late in the game to tie it with runs in the eighth and the ninth, and giving us opportunities to win the game in the eighth, ninth and 10th,” Stiffler said. “I’m excited about how we competed even though you’re never happy about any type of loss.”

Next up for VCU is a road game against Virginia Military Institute on April 30. The Rams return home on May 2 for a three-game series against conference rival George Washington University.

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