Originally published in The Fordham Ram on April 5, 2017.
The La Salle Explorers ventured to the Bronx, but by the end of the weekend they probably wished they had not. The team returned home with two more losses courtesy of the Fordham Rams.
Fordham put on a strong performance in the first game of the series on Saturday, April 1, but fell in extra innings 7-6.
The weather was playing tricks on the fielders right away. La Salle leadoff man Austin Constantini hit a deep, but catchable fly ball to right field off of sophomore starter Mike Cowell. Freshman Jake Baker seemed to settle underneath it, but the strong wind carried it over his head and dropped it behind him, turning an out into a runner on third. Constantini would score, putting the Rams in a 1-0 hole early.
The Rams took a 2-1 lead in the bottom of the second, but back-to-back doubles in the top of the fourth for La Salle tied the game back up. But with one out and a runner on third, Cowell showed he was clear of any elbow worries, striking out two batters with vicious breaking balls.
After La Salle took the lead in the top of the fifth on an error by freshman shortstop Matt Tarabek, the bats picked him up to the tune of four runs. Three singles loaded the bases with no outs. A sacrifice fly from sophomore Reiss Knehr plated one, and after another fly out, Donadio cleared the bases with a two-RBI double. Tarabek then atoned for his mistakes by driving home Donadio.
Head coach Kevin Leighton decided to go back to Cowell in the top of the seventh, despite already being at 95 pitches.
“I thought Mike was doing well and deserved to be out there,” said Leighton. “Pitch count is something we look at when deciding to take a guy out, but it’s not the only thing.”
Three batters later, he was removed with runners on second and third with one out. Freshman Brandon Martin came to relieve, but he was unable to keep both runs from scoring, making it 6-5 Fordham. Martin then gave up his first earned run of the season in the top of the seventh, tying the game at six.
Freshman Kyle Martin came in to relieve Brandon in the ninth, but gave up an RBI triple in the 10th to give the Explorers the 7-6 lead. The Rams had a shot in the bottom of the frame, with a runner on second with one out and a runner on third with two outs, but they could not plate him, starting the series with a loss.
Due to the weather of the weekend, Sunday’s contest became a doubleheader, and the Rams swept both. In game one, graduate student starter Jimmy Murphy continued his incredible season. He threw eight innings of two-run ball. He did walk five batters, but he was able to limit the damage with six strikeouts and just five hits.
On the offensive side, the Rams got going right away. Senior Matt Kozuch led off with a single and scored immediately on a RBI double from junior Brian Goulard. He eventually came around to score on a groundout by Tarabek, and then Knehr drove more two home on a single through the right side, making it 4-0.
That was all the Rams needed, as freshman Alvin Melendez came in during the ninth and slammed the door shut on a 5-2 victory. But, his day was not over yet.
In game two, the Rams once again jumped out in front of the Explorers early, taking advantage of a throwing error to score two runs. They got one more in the next inning to take an early 3-0 lead.
La Salle got all three of those runs back in the top of the fifth, thanks in large part to an error by Tarabek, who moved over to second base in this game. Of the three runs that scored, only one was charged to the starting pitcher, Knehr.
Knehr, just like Murphy, continued his stellar season on the mound. That one earned run was his only blip on the day. He threw eight strong innings, twirling a career-high 12 strikeouts, besting his 11 from his start against Sacred Heart two starts prior. He walked just one batter and allowed eight hits. He also had three RBI this weekend.
“Reiss can change the game in nearly every capacity,” said Leighton. “On the mound he has the ability to dominate a team. Offensively he has a combination of power and speed. And defensively he is extremely athletic and can make some great plays with the glove.”
At 118 pitches through eight, Knehr was pulled. For the second time in the same day, Leighton made the unconventional move to call on Melendez to pitch in relief. Melendez got into a spot of trouble in the ninth, but was able to strand runners at second and third. The Rams were set down in order in the bottom of the ninth, however, so the final game of a long weekend once again went to extras.
Melendez escaped another runners-in-scoring-position situation in the top of the tenth. Kozuch ended things in the bottom of the frame with an RBI single, giving Fordham a 4-3 lead and the 2-1 series win.
“I was impressed with our fight and composure this weekend,” said Leighton. “We had a young guy in Alvin Melendez in a huge spot and he was impressive. This team needs to continue to battle like we did this past weekend.”
The Rams bats came alive over the weekend, hitting .359 over the series. Kozuch continued his hot streak, extending his hitting streak to 11. Over those 11 games, he has hit .636 with 7 RBI.
“I think we have cut down on our strikeouts and have put the ball in play more,” said Leighton. “Some guys you knew weren’t going to struggle the entire year like they did in the beginning, but at the end of the day, the key is to swing at good pitches and to put the ball in play.”
Fordham Baseball will next be in action with a non-conference double header against St. Peter’s on Wednesday, April 5 and then a road A-10 series at Saint Louis starting on April 7.