VCU baseball defeats rival Richmond in weekend series

Redshirt sophomore Tyler Locklear at bat against University of Richmond on April 15. Photo taken by Arrick Wilson

Arrick Wilson, Sports Editor

The VCU Rams baseball team played crosstown rival the University of Richmond Spiders, winning two of the three-game series. 

The series marked the first matchup between both baseball programs since 2019, when games were canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to VCU Athletics

The black and gold started the series with a shutout loss, struggling to capitalize on offense. The Rams overcame its rough start, winning back-to-back games, with a combined 26 runs.

VCU sophomore Campbell Ellis said persevering through the initial setback was essential to have the strength to win the next games.

“That first loss was tough. Then losing the way we did that was kind of upsetting but, we didn’t lose any confidence,” Ellis said. “We had a lot of momentum and energy going into Sunday, to pick up that win and get the series win was huge for us.”

Friday, April 15

The Spiders grabbed the first game, defeating the Rams 7-0. Richmond graduate pitcher Brock Weirather threw a complete game shutout, not allowing the Rams to get any runs in the game. 

VCU head coach Shawn Stiffler said the pitching from Weirather kept the Rams from scoring, while the Spiders capitalized on hits. 

“Their pitcher threw really well tonight, you know. At the end of the day — you gotta look at both teams have seven hits, but they were able to score seven runs. He [Weirather] was able to keep us at bay,” Stiffler said.

The black and gold had five hits in the first three innings, but did not take advantage and left three runners on bases.

VCU Sophomore Campbell Ellis was the starting pitcher for the Rams, pitching a no-hitter through four innings. VCU continued its pattern of not letting its pitchers pitch more than four innings, as Ellis was relieved by freshman Chase Hungate in the fifth inning. 

Stiffler said the switch between pitchers was not part of the loss, mentioning that he would continue to relieve his pitchers.

“That’s how we play. I’ll do that 100 out of 100 times, that has nothing to do with it,” Stiffler said.

The deadlock score of zero continued until the sixth inning. Richmond redshirt senior Dominic Toso hit a double to the left-center of the field, allowing redshirt sophomore Alden Mathes to score and give Richmond the first run of the game.

The Spiders did not stop there, as redshirt junior Johnny Hipsman hit a home run, scoring Toso and himself and adding two points. Richmond graduate student Andrew Papantonis hit a single, while sophomore Jared Sprague-Lott advanced to second base. Junior Will Gersky’s single sent Sprague-Lott and Papantonis in to score. The black and gold trailed, 5-0.

At the top of the seventh, the Rams offense only registered one hit, while Richmond’s Dominic Toso hit a home run to left field, making the score Richmond 6-0.

Richmond’s Weirather struck out all three VCU hitters at the top of the eighth, continuing his runless streak. After the switch, Sprague-Lott hit Richmond’s third home run of the day, making the final score 7-0. Stiffler said learning from mistakes was an important takeaway from the loss. 

“The only positive is we are going to not change anything. We’re going to play how we play, we’re gonna coach them how we coach them, the best we can,” Stiffler said. 

Saturday, April 16

The Rams came into Saturday’s game with a vengeance and claimed the second game of the series, with a score of 13-11.

VCU redshirt junior Michael Haydak started the game for the Rams, scoring a run after a hit from sophomore Connor Hujsak. The Spiders returned with its offensive set and scored two runs, leading VCU 2-1. 

Both teams traded blows again in the second inning, scoring two runs each. The Rams took a lead with a home run by VCU redshirt junior Nic Ericsson. This lead did not last as Richmond graduate student Shane Gibson’s double hit allowed junior Will Gersky to score. Spiders redshirt sophomore Alden Mathes’s single hit allowed Gibson to run home, scoring for the Spiders.

Entering the third inning, the Spiders led the Rams, 4-3. Richmond graduate student Andrew Papantonis scored a home run, extending the lead for the Spiders.

After a quiet fourth inning, things ramped up in the fifth inning with the Rams scoring six runs, while the Spiders scored four runs, tying the score 9-9. The Rams then scored four more points over the next two innings. 

The Rams put in redshirt junior Evan Chenier at the bottom of the fifth inning and achieved a career-high of six strikeouts, according to VCU Athletics

At the start of the ninth inning, VCU led Richmond 13-9. The Spiders did not go away easily, as a left-side single by Mathes advanced Beal to second base and graduate student Shane Gipson to third base while scoring freshman Jimmy Starnes. The Spiders trailed 13-10.

A hit by Richmond’s Toso advanced two runners to bases while allowing Gipson to score, making the score 13-11. The game came down to one play with Richmond players now on the second and third base looking to score and VCU having two outs.

Richmond’s Hipsman was at-bat for the final play of the game. The redshirt junior hit a fly ball across the center field but was out by VCU freshman Jesse Robinson. Robinson was the hero, catching the ball in a diving effort to give the Rams its final out.

VCU sophomore Campbell Ellis said Robinson’s presence and playing ability influence him as a pitcher.

“He’s [Robinson] phenomenal out there. He’s a spark plug, and he gets us going with the energy and we feed off of it,” Ellis said. “Being a pitcher and seeing him out there in centerfield, it gives me confidence to be able to execute pitches, and know that he’s gonna go out there and catch a ball.”

Sunday, April 17

VCU continued Saturday’s dominance and claimed the third game of the series, with a score of 13-2. VCU sophomore Tyler Davis, redshirt junior Jaden Griffin and redshirt sophomore Jack Masloff all performed well from the pitcher’s mound.

Richmond gained an early 2-1 lead after the first inning. Richmond redshirt senior Dominic Toso hit a triple scoring redshirt sophomore Alden Mathes. After that, Toso scored off graduate student Andrew Papantonis’s single. This lead did not last as VCU scored 12 straight runs, clearing Richmond off the board.

VCU head coach Shawn Stiffler said overcoming the first loss was based on the team finding its rhythm and recipe for success.

“We’re trying to figure out our formula. I thought we did a really good job of being ourselves,” Stiffler said. “On Sunday, we did a really good job preparing. We’re just finding out we need to keep things really simple.”

VCU’s next weekend series will be played against the Saint Joseph’s University Hawks starting Friday, April 22. The first pitch will be thrown at 6:30 p.m. at the Diamond in Richmond.

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