After splitting a tough four-game series this past weekend with Niagara, Marist was looking to start another winning streak at Rider on Wednesday afternoon. On a gorgeous 87 degree day in New Jersey, the Red Foxes took care of the Broncs in an 8-5 Game 1 victory.
Redshirt senior Conor McNamara took the mound for Marist and in six innings of work he pitched exceptionally. Despite three runs crossing the plate (zero earned), McNamara was still able to get outs at an incredibly efficient rate. His ability to diversity his pitch selection with his fastball and off-speed stuff helped him to retire batters with a balanced array of groundouts, flyouts and strikeouts on only 75 pitches.
“He just had a real good control of the game. And if we had played some sound defense, he probably could have done a complete game,” head coach Chris Tracz said. “His experience showed today.”
Junior outfielder Brian Hart might be one of the hottest sluggers in the MAAC. After reaching base seven times in Saturday’s doubleheader against Niagara, Hart continued his hitting tear with two bombs against Rider. The left fielder hit a three-run home run in the third inning to break a 2-2 tie, and then blasted another solo shot in the fifth inning to extend the lead even more.
“You need guys in the middle of the order to play well and to generate runs and he [Hart] did a great job today,” Tracz said.
Marist dominated Game 1 for the first six innings of the game – leading by as many as six runs – however, once McNamara was taken out, Rider began mounting a comeback, even getting the tying run to the plate in a seventh inning rally.
With Rider dangerously close to pulling off the late game heroics, coach Tracz turned to senior Nick Cantone. The reliever who has been one of Marists’ most clutch bullpen arms all season – struck out Rider’s five and six hitters to earn the save.
“He’s [Cantone] as tough as they come and wants the ball in those tight spots,” Tracz said. “He’s a guy that we trust completely at the end of games.” Cantone relishes the opportunity to shut down the opponent and Tracz knows he can turn to him whenever they need to get an important out.
Marist ended Game 1 shaky, but on a high note. In Game 2, they used their momentum from the previous game to get off to a quick start in a quality 10-3 victory to complete the sweep.
Right from the jump, Marist was cooking offensively, knocking Rider junior Frank DelGuercio out of the game after just five batters. The Red Foxes have been relentless this season at stringing together hits that lead to big innings.
Graduate student Ben McNeill once again jump-started the offense. He has been sensational in the leadoff spot, always setting the table early and allowing the rest of the team opportunities to drive in runs. The second baseman reached base seven times and scored four runs during Wednesday’s doubleheader. McNeill’s stellar .464 on-base percentage is the reason he has been such a proficient player at the top of the lineup.
“He’s [McNeill] perfect at the top of the order for us to just really work their pitchers,” Tracz said. “He’s been able to just generate base running opportunities and scoring opportunities with the hitters behind him.”
Marists’ pitching was strong all around in Game 2. Redshirt senior Skyler Pichardo was given the start and pitched four scoreless innings. Junior Zane Kmietek relieved Pichardo by throwing a solid 2⅓ innings. Redshirt senior Will Van Beusekom followed with two well-pitched innings, which included escaping a bases loaded jam in the seventh inning. And senior southpaw James Rubino closed out the game, retiring the final two batters of the game. The staff pitched fantastically as a collective group, allowing only one earned run in Game 2.
“We were able to induce some double plays to end rallies and really buckled down when we got to tight spots” said Tracz. Marist allowed a combined six hit batters and walks, which is definitely an area the team hopes to improve on going forward, but Tracz was satisfied with the overall pitching performances on the day.
Marist returns to action Saturday, May 1 at Monmouth, where they will look to extend their win streak.
Edited by Nicholas Stanziale
Photo from Marist College Athletics