Baseball overcomes rough road start

By
Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The baseball team had a rocky start to its road stretch over spring break but closed it out on a positive note, winning three of its first four games in Ivy League play over the weekend. The Bears got strong play from co-captain Matt Nuzzo ’09, who is batting a team-high .368 on the season, and Graham Tyler ’12, who is second on the team with 14 RBI.

The stretch began with a four-game series at the University of San Diego, where the Bears dropped three of four games to the Toreros. In the first game of the series, on March 21, Brown (6-11, 3-1 Ivy) got a strong start from pitcher Rob Wilcox ’10, who allowed just three runs on 13 hits, in seven and one-third innings. But the Bears dropped a 4-3 decision in extra innings despite three hits from Ryan Zrenda ’11, who is hitting .311 on the season.

Later that day, the Toreros jumped out to a 7-0 lead in the third inning and never looked back, securing the 11-5 win over the Bears, whose losing streak extended to six games.

The following day, Brown appeared on the verge of continuing its skid, trailing 8-5 after six innings. But the Bears picked up two runs in the top of the seventh to make it an 8-7 game. With the game tied in the top of the ninth, a sacrifice fly by Mike DiBiase ’12 drove in the go-ahead run for Bruno. Relief pitcher Matt Kimball ’11 then came on to pitch a scoreless inning, securing the 9-8 win for Brown.

“We had to do something to propel us over that hump and get the win and become a team that can not only play in close games, but can pull them out,” Nuzzo said. “If we get in the habit of doing that, then that can definitely help us down the road to win close games.”

After a 10-2 loss in the final game of the series, Bruno’s bats woke up on March 24 in a 20-8 rout of Pepperdine University. After the Bears jumped out to an early 6-0 lead, Pepperdine crept back into the game with four runs in the bottom of the fifth inning, but Brown blew the game open with back-to-back six-run innings in the sixth and seventh. Zrenda led the team with four hits, while Tyler went 3-for-5 with a game-high seven RBI.

On March 25, Brown wrapped up its West Coast swing with a doubleheader at USC. The Bears struggled to muster much run production, losing the two games by scores of 7-4 and 5-1. Despite the final outcomes, Brown felt optimistic heading into Ivy League play.

“Even though we dropped two, we played them tough, and that translated over into our first Ivy League weekend,” Nuzzo said.

After two days off, the Bears took the field again on Saturday for a doubleheader at Cornell. In the first game, Nuzzo had a strong day at the plate, going 3-for-3, but the Big Red (3-11, 1-1) tagged pitcher co-captain Will Weidig ’10 for eight runs, cruising to an 8-4 victory over Brown.

The Bears rebounded in the second game that day, when Mark Gormley ’11 pitched all seven innings, giving up just two runs while recording seven strikeouts. In the fifth inning, designated hitter Pete Greskoff ’11 hit a three-run homer to give the Bears a 5-0 lead, and Brown added five more insurance runs in the top of the seventh to get the 10-2 victory. Nuzzo went 3-for-3 once again, and Zrenda, Tyler and catcher Matt Colantonio ’11 each registered two hits on the day for the Bears.

Brown carried the momentum into Sunday’s doubleheader at Princeton, where the Bears took two games from the Tigers (8-9, 1-3).

In the first game, the Bears held a 3-2 lead in the top of the sixth inning, when outfielder Dan Shapiro ’09 blasted a three-run shot to right field, giving Bruno a 6-2 lead. After a solid start from pitcher Matt Boylan ’10, Kimball closed out the game, surrendering just one run in two and two-thirds innings of work in a 7-3 win for Brown. Centerfielder Steve Daniels ’09 led the Bears with three hits, while also scoring two runs and stealing two bases.

In the second game of the doubleheader, pitcher Josh Feit ’11 had a rough start, as back-to-back singles and a throwing error gave Princeton a 1-0 lead and put a runner on second with no outs in the first inning. After an infield single put runners at the corners, Feit picked the runner off at first. After an RBI single gave the Tigers a 2-0 advantage, Feit induced a double-play grounder to escape a potentially catastrophic first inning with only two runs allowed.

After that, Feit settled down and pitched eight scoreless innings for Brown, giving up just two hits after the first inning.

“Momentum kind of swung our way, getting out of that inning with just a couple runs,” Feit said. “I just kind of got in my rhythm, throwing strikes and keeping the ball down to keep us in the game.”

In the top of the fourth, Brown finally got on the board when first baseman Rob Papenhause ’09 connected for a two-run homer to tie the game.

In the fifth inning, the Bears added to the lead with a four-run, two-out rally, which included a two-run homer by Greskoff, an RBI double from Papenhause and an RBI single from Shapiro. In the top of the sixth, Daniels hit a solo homer to widen the lead to 7-2, where the score would remain for the rest of the game.

“It’s fun to pitch out there when you have a five-run lead for most of the game – that made my life a lot easier,” Feit said.

Papenhause, Zrenda and Nuzzo each had three hits for the Bears, and Papenhause also had a game-high three RBIs, while Daniels and Greskoff each had two hits. With the win, the Bears improved to 3-1 in Ivy League play.

“It’s crucial to get off to a good start in the Ivy League, because it’s a short conference season, only 20 games, and as we found out last year, if you get off to a bad start, or get in a little slump, it’s very difficult to pull yourself out of that,” Nuzzo said. “But it’s still just one weekend, and we have to become more consistent and continue to play like we did this weekend.”

Brown will resume play on Wednesday with a home doubleheader against URI, with games at 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. at Murray Stadium, and will then play at cross-state rival Bryant University on Thursday afternoon.

“I feel if we just let our talent take over and play our game, I think that will translate into winning,” Nuzzo said. “The team has great chemistry, we bond well together and we have great depth, which is something we haven’t had in the past.”