The College’s baseball team entered this past weekend knowing that with four conference games to play in two days, it had a chance to make an impression in the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC).
“It’s important,” head coach Rick Dell said. “It’s an opportunity. With six teams now in the conference tournament, if you can come out of this weekend with a good showing, you’re in good shape. It’s one quarter of your NJAC schedule.”
The Lions, ranked No. 14 in Monday’s American Baseball Coaches Association-Collegiate Baseball Poll for Division III, certainly didn’t miss out on that opportunity.
After dropping a 7-5 NJAC contest to Richard Stockton College on Thursday, the College took three out of their four conference games this weekend, sweeping a doubleheader from Montclair State University on Saturday and splitting a twin bill with Kean University on Sunday.
“Our goal before Friday was to be either 4-1 after the weekend or 3-2 and we accomplished 3-2,” sophomore second baseman Andrew Cosgrove said. “So that puts us in a good position in the conference standings and provides us with the mental attitude we need for the rest of the season.”
After winning 17 of their first 20 non-conference games, the Lions’ 3-2 record in the last five conference games and 3-1 performance over the weekend may not appear to be as impressive as the first half of the season, but the dawning of conference play has increased the level of competition from opponents.
Even conference rival Rowan University, ranked No. 2 in the nation in Division III, went 14-0 during their non-conference schedule but since the opening of conference play, the Profs have dropped two of their last five and posted a 3-1 mark this weekend.
With identical 4-2 conference records, the Lions and Profs share the top of the tough NJAC, which has featured four nationally ranked teams this season.
“Right now we’re still just taking it one game at a time,” Dell said.
After getting battered 9-0 in the first game of a home doubleheader with Kean on Sunday, the College regrouped to take the nightcap 9-2 behind eight strong innings of work from senior Vincent Petrillo, who allowed just two runs on five hits.
Sophomore catcher Gerard Haran, who led the Lions with a 3-for-5, four-RBI day at the plate, roped a two-run home run in the bottom of the first to tie the score at two. The Lions piled on with another run in the inning and six more scores by the fifth.
In the first game, the Cougars jumped all over senior pitcher Brad Downs to the tune of eight runs over six innings on seven hits. Kean’s junior pitcher Mike Bastita tossed a complete game shutout, allowing just four hits to give the Lions their first shutout in 112 games.
The College took the second game of Saturday’s doubleheader against Montclair 4-3 in extra innings. Cosgrove tripled to centerfield in the 10th inning with one out and sophomore outfielder Mike Feaster sacrificed home the winning run with a fly ball the next at-bat.
Freshman pitcher Brad Kittle took the win with three scoreless innings of one-hit ball in relief.
In the first game, sophomore third baseman Blake Bullis launched a two-run homer in the Lions’ four-run fifth inning to give the College a 9-5 victory. Bullis finished 2-for-4 with two RBIs and three runs scored as part of the Lions’ offensive effort that saw seven batters drive in a run.
Junior pitcher Joe D’Alessandro tossed 7-2/3 innings and allowed five runs for his fourth win of the year.
On Monday, No. 23 Johns Hopkins University upset the Lions 8-3 in non-conference action. The Lions let an early 3-0 lead slip away as sophomore reliever Bill Opel was shelled for seven runs on eight hits over 3-2/3 innings in a rare start.
On Thursday, freshman pitcher Mike Oliver was tagged for five runs in 2-2/3 innings and freshman pitcher Brad Kittle gave up two more runs in his 3-1/3 innings in relief to hand the Lions a 7-5 loss to Stockton.
Three errors in the field from the Lions led to three unearned runs attributed to Oliver. It was the third time in five games that the College committed three errors in a game.
“I think it’s not so much the errors we made but the plays we didn’t make,” Dell said. “There were about eight balls (against Stockton) we didn’t get to that we should have. We just gave them too much.”
The Lions now boast a 20-6 overall record. They will look to improve that mark at Messiah College on Wednesday at 3 p.m.