By: Michael Marzzacco
After opening the first month of the season on the road with games in Atlanta, Georgia (Georgia Tech), Winston-Salem, North Carolina (Wake Forest), and Virginia Tech, the Radford baseball team finally returned home to open their home schedule with a weekend series vs. Siena. Excitement for the home opening series was in the air not just with the fans but for players and coaches as well.
“It was nice to come home,” said Head Coach Joe Raccuia. “While it was good to get away for a while and everybody bonding as a team in the hotels and traveling, it gets hard after a while and it’s good to be back at our home field where we’re comfortable playing.”
Junior second baseman Josh Gardiner was thrilled to be back as well. “It was great to actually sit around at home rather than sit in hotels for four or five days and get to spend time with friends, Gardiner said. “I wish we had better weather this weekend than we had down in Georgia where it was 65-70 degrees but it was great to be back.”
On Saturday March 1 the teams would take part in a twin bill doubleheader. In game 1, sophomore ace Dylan Nelson took the mound. In the bottom of the first, RU would score the first run of the game thanks to two walks and two wild pitches. In the bottom of the third with a runner on, junior Patrick Marshall hit an RBI single into left field. Junior Josh Gardiner would score thanks to a miscue by Siena’s leftfielder and it would be 2-0 Highlanders. After Siena tied the game at 2 in the fourth inning, the Highs would respond in the bottom sixth with an eight-run rally. RU loaded the bases and Gardiner delivered an RBI single that gave RU the 3-2 lead. Back to back RBI singles by senior Alexander Lee and sophomore Zach Woolcock would make it 5-2. RU also took advantage of two errors by Siena’s third baseman and a two run single by Marshall to make it 8-2. With just one out in the sixth inning and a commanding 8-2 lead, junior Hunter Higgerson would deliver the big blow as he blasted a two-run homer over the left field fence to make it 10-2 Highlanders! Radford would hold on to take game 1 of the doubleheader 10-4 as Nelson improved his record to 3-0 on the season, tossing eight innings while only giving up two runs on five hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
In game 2 of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Highs picked up where they left off as Patrick Marshall hit an opposite field home run to leftfield on the first pitch of the second inning! Marshall’s home run was his first home run of his college career. After Dan Swain of Siena put them ahead 2-1 in the third with a two run single, the Highlanders would even the score at 2 in the fourth. In the fifth Radford would put together a six-run explosion. After a go-ahead RBI single by Alexander Lee that gave RU a 3-2 lead, Marshall belted his second home run of the game! His two-run shot put RU up 5-2. An RBI single by sophomore Jordan Taylor, sac-fly by sophomore Chris Coia and a bases loaded hit-by-pitch gave Radford an 8-2 advantage. It wasn’t just the offense dominating the game as sophomore starting pitcher Michael Boyle retired nine consecutive Siena hitters between the fourth and sixth innings. There would be another six-run rally in the seventh inning, only this time for the opposition. Boyle hit the first batter, walked the next and then exited the game. Sophomore Daniel Bridgeman came into the game to relieve Boyle. The Saints drew another walk and Carlos Tapia hit a two run single to cut the Highlander lead in half 8-4. Junior Michael Costello came in to pitch with runners on the corners and no outs.
After getting an out, Siena got a sac-fly to close the gap to 8-5. With two outs and the bases loaded, Siena tied the game with a three-run double as senior centerfielder Blake Sipe almost made a diving catch but the ball went off his glove. Radford was unable to score in the bottom of the seventh and the game was sent to extra innings tied at 8. In the top of the eighth, Siena had the go-ahead run on base with two outs. Senior relief pitcher James Woods came into the game and ended the Saints threat with a strikeout. With one out and junior Aaron Scoville on second, Alexander Lee hit a walk off double to the centerfield fence to give the Highlanders the thrilling 9-8 victory! Woods got his first win of the season, Lee finished the game 2-5 with a double and two RBIs and Scoville finished 3-4 with two runs scored. In both games the Highlander bats recorded 25 hits.
On Sunday the Highlanders were going for the sweep. During the first two games the Radford bats produced big innings with six or eight runs and the third and final game of the series would be no different. Siena starting pitcher Colton Dennis was shaky as he beaned five of the first seven batters he face. While Radford couldn’t take advantage of getting hit three times in the first, they answered in the second after the first two batters were hit. After Dennis left the game, Chris Coia’s ground ball under the Saints third baseman’s glove allowed Zach Woolcock and Hunter Higgerson to score, 2-0 RU. After a bases loaded walk made it 3-0, Josh Gardiner’s RBI single to left field put the Highs up 4-0. Radford just like the previous day would end up with a six-run inning only this time in the second, pushing their lead to 6-0. In the following inning, Radford put together a five-run third. The inning was highlighted by a two-out two-run triple by Josh Gardiner and a Alexander Lee single that scored Gardiner that made it 9-0. Then Woolcock doubled home two more runs to make it 11-0 after three. Despite giving up a run to the Saints in the fourth, Radford added on to the lead in the seventh. Sophomore Nygeal Andrews hit an RBI double in the seventh and the Highs added two more runs in the eighth to make it 14-1. The Highlanders finished off the Saints in the ninth inning to win 14-1 and sweep the weekend series sending Highlander fans home happy. The 14 run explosion came on 11 hits.
“We got three solid starts from all three of our starting pitchers which we didn’t quite get in the first eight games of the year,” said Raccuia. “Our offense executed and the big innings gave us chance to win each game. We took advantage of the positions we were given with free base runners. It’s tough to close out a series sweep no matter who you’re playing but I’m happy for my guys that we bounced back after an emotional win yesterday.”
Radford starting pitcher, sophomore Ryan Meisinger worked seven innings to earn his first win of the season, allowing just one run on six hits, lowering his ERA to 2.49, and striking out a career high nine hitters. Offensively, Gardiner and Woolcokc each drove in three RBIs.
“Coming off of a tough weekend at Wake Forest, we just came out ready to play, ready to hit and be aggressive,” said Gardiner.
With the three wins and the homefield the Highs improved their record to 5-6. Radford will continue their homestand with a two game set on Tuesday and Wednesday vs. Temple. First pitch for both games is at 4 p.m. The Highlanders will also be home this weekend with a three game series beginning Friday against Bryant.
This team should be fun to watch this season. “All around we should have a really good team. I think we have more depth offensively, defensively, and pitching wise throughout the entire lineup so I think we should be really good this year,” added Gardiner.