Tom Callahan, Contributing Writer
The VCU Rams baseball team swept a three-game series against the Quinnipiac University Bobcats, outscoring its opponents 39-12 in the process.
Coming into the series, the Rams struggled to hit its stride against difficult opposition. Of the 17 games prior to the series against Quinnipiac, seven were against nationally ranked teams at the time, including a three-game series against No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels.
However, after losing by two in the first game against No. 22 University of Maryland Terrapins and a postponement in the second, the Rams started a win streak. The black and gold won the following four games, one of those against No. 12 Liberty University Flames. The Rams were not ranked in any preseason polls.
Sunday: March 20
The final game in the series saw the Rams dominate offensively. At the top of the second inning, the Bobcats were able to open the scoring with a solo home run to left-center field. The lead was short lived after the Rams scored eight runs in the bottom half. Four of those runs came off a Grand Slam by junior right fielder Logan Amiss.
The Rams grew the lead again in the sixth inning, scoring five more runs. Quinnipiac was able to score three runs after most of VCU’s starting fielders were substituted, but it was too late as the game ended in the ninth inning, with a score of 17-6. Standout performers for the game were sophomore designated hitters Will Carlone and Devan Barnett. Both batted in two runs in the sixth and eighth innings, respectively.
VCU head coach Shawn Stiffler said it was down to improvements in pitching and extra work in practice that allowed the team to fight back.
“We really cleaned things up on the pitching and defensive side, that’s what allowed us to take our time, and get our breath and, hopefully, things are starting to, we think, see positive results offensively right now,” Stiffler said. “It’s been guys doing extra hitting, getting here early, putting the work in and not wanting to stink anymore.”
Saturday: March 19
Saturday’s game, a 14-4 win for VCU, showed the strength of pitching on the roster. The game’s starting pitcher, left-handed sophomore Campbell Ellis, is the first starter to pitch for longer than four innings this season. Ellis allowed just one hit after facing 14 batters.
After a slow start to the game, scoring only twice in the first five innings, the Rams’ batters were able to score seven runs in the bottom of the sixth inning. Three of those runs came off a home run hit to left field by redshirt sophomore center fielder Scottie O’Bryan.
One batter who didn’t play as well as he has in recent games is redshirt sophomore third baseman Tyler Locklear. Last season, Locklear led the Atlantic 10 conference in runs batted in with 67, according to the A-10’s official website. This season, Locklear has brought his total up to 24 so far, according to VCU Athletics.
Against Quinnipiac, Locklear was quiet for the most part, registering two hits from his 10 at bats, both of which came in the first game. Locklear said while the pitching is good in conference play, he focuses on his own game.
“The A-10 [Atlantic 10] is a good conference and a lot of good arms come out of it, including a second rounder last year from Fordham [University],” Locklear said. “So you just kinda take it one at bat at a time, waiting for a good pitch to hit and try to drive it, it never really changes.”
Friday: March 18
Friday’s game ended in an 8-2 Rams’ win, extending the team’s winning streak to five games. VCU played well on defense, making no errors, a metric which denotes when a fielder’s mistake gives a tangible advantage to the other team. Junior first baseman Michael Haydak stood out on both sides of the ball. Haydak managed to get three hits and completed nine outs, second only to sophomore catcher Nic Ericsson, who had 11.
In addition, head coach Shawn Stiffler’s decision to bring on right-handed freshman pitcher Chase Hungate paid dividends. The Abington, Virginia native and 2021 Times News Southwest Virginia male athlete of the year pitched four innings in relief.
Those four innings saw Hungate face thirteen batters, striking out five and allowing only one hit. Huntgate said when facing skilled batters he avoids changing his approach.
“Not really, you got to attack each hitter, just go at them and have faith in your play and defense,” Huntgate said.
VCU’s next game will be played against the Norfolk State University Spartans on Wednesday, March 23. First pitch will be thrown at 3 p.m. at the Marty L. Miller field in Norfolk, Virginia. The game will be televised on ESPN+.