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Baseball opens season with 1-2 showing despite strong pitching

Bruno bests Bucknell, falls to Notre Dame, Alabama in close contests at North Carolina tournament

The baseball team opened the 2016 season with a 1-2 weekend at the USA Baseball-Irish Classic in Cary, North Carolina behind strong performances from the team’s starting pitchers.

Brown 2, Bucknell 0

Bruno opened the weekend Friday against Bucknell (5-5). The game marked the highly anticipated return of Christian Taugner ’17 to the mound. Taugner impressed as a first-year, but missed the entire 2015 season after undergoing surgery on his elbow. If his performance Friday is any indication, Taugner is more than ready to shoulder the load of serving as the team’s ace once again.

The game went scoreless for five full innings with Taugner and Bucknell’s Jeff Gottesman shutting down opposing hitters.

Brown cracked the scoreboard in the sixth after Tim McKeithan ’16 came home on a sacrifice fly by Jake Levine ’16. McKeithan walked to open the inning, then went first to third on a single by Rob Henry ’17.

Taugner continued to baffle hitters deep into the game thanks in part to his impressive efficiency. When he came out of the game after the eighth inning, he had thrown only 99 pitches.

“The key to keeping the pitch count down is just attacking the strike zone,” said Head Coach Grant Achilles, crediting Taugner for going right after hitters.

The Bears added an insurance run in the top of the ninth before Dante Bosnic ’18 came in to shut the door for the Bears and secure the 2-0 win.

Taugner surrendered only three hits while walking four and striking out six in eight innings.

Notre Dame 7, Brown 6

Coming into the tournament, it looked as if Notre Dame (6-5) could be the toughest test of the weekend for Bruno. The Fighting Irish received preseason votes for the top 25 and are typically a contender in the ACC, one of the deepest conferences in college baseball.

Reid Anderson ’18 was on the hill for the Bears and the teams played two scoreless frames before Brown’s offense came alive in the top of the third.

The Bears rattled off four consecutive hits to start the inning, starting with a single from Jake Rosander ’19 and a double from McKeithan. Rob Henry ’17, the Ivy League preseason player of the year according to Baseball America, drove them both in with a single and score on a deep double from Levine. Levine later scored to bring the lead up to four.

The Bears stretched the lead to six after a two-run fifth inning. Anderson held the Irish scoreless until he gave back those two runs in the sixth, finishing his 5.2 innings of work having given up only two runs on four hits. He and Bruno appeared to be in good position to get the win.

Notre Dame added another run in the bottom of the eighth and held the Bears scoreless in the top of the ninth, setting up a dramatic bottom of the ninth.

Achilles turned to Henry, the Bears’ star center fielder, to pitch the ninth with a 6-3 lead. Henry had never pitched for Brown before this year, but his fastball touched 88-90 mph consistently in the inning.

Things started to unravel for the Bears after two singles and a walk loaded the bases with one out. Henry struck out Ricky Sanchez to bring the Bears one out from victory, but a passed ball in the next at-bat that brought a run home followed by a walk would send the winning run to first for the Irish.

With the bases loaded once again, Notre Dame’s Zak Kutsulis launched a deep fly ball to left field that glanced off the glove of Levine. All three runners were moving on contact and scored to complete an unfathomable comeback for the Irish and a devastating late-inning collapse for the Bears.

Despite the blown save, Achilles said he has no plans to back off using Henry on the mound.

“This is just one situation where the ball didn’t bounce our way,” he said. “His velocity was good, his pitches were sharp, and he was confident up there, so we’re still confident in him.”

In a display of Brown’s deep lineup, seven of the nine starters registered a hit in the game. Henry led the team offensively with two hits, two runs and two RBI.

Alabama 2, Brown 0

The Bears had no time to dwell on the tough loss, as they faced another highly regarded opponent from a top conference, this time the SEC, in Alabama (10-2).

Austin French ’16 got the start for Brown and put an exclamation point on an excellent weekend for the team’s pitchers.

The game closely resembled the opener against Bucknell, as neither offense could figure out the opposing pitcher. The teams remained deadlocked at zero until the ninth inning, when the Crimson Tide pushed across two runs against Max Ritchie ’17, who finished the game as the losing pitcher.

Brown threatened with two runners on base in the bottom of the ninth, but Jake Rosander ’19 flew out to complete the shutout for Alabama.

French went seven innings and allowed only four hits and two walks while striking out seven.

Three Alabama pitchers combined to hold the Bears scoreless and allowed just four hits.

Despite a two-loss weekend, Achilles recognized that the nature of the two losses reveal several positives for Bruno.

Brown’s starting pitchers combined to give up only two runs in 20.2 innings pitched, good for a 0.87 ERA. That comes in sharp contrast to the team’s 7.14 ERA last season, one of the worst in the country.

“To have our pitching do the job that they did, it’s something we’re really excited about,” Achilles said. “We had three quality starts. All three of them did a great job holding the opposing offense down and gave us a chance to win.”

Achilles also remarked that the weekend’s opponents were all talented enough to make the NCAA tournament.

“Our guys took this as a bit of a confidence boost,” Achilles said. “To face an ACC team and follow that up with an SEC team and really feel like the games could have gone either way, that’s something we’re building on moving forward.”

Next up for the Bears is a four-game series against Marshall on the road over the weekend.


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