On a brutally cold day in the Hudson Valley, constant wind gusts engulfed the diamond as Marist and Fairfield played the rubber game of their weekend series. It was a close game throughout, though one very strenuous inning led to the Red Foxes falling to the Stags 7-4 in their first conference series of the year.
Marist had graduate student Alex Pansini on the bump following back-to-back sensational performances against Navy and Fordham. The starting pitcher entered the matchup with 14⅔ consecutive scoreless innings and was hoping to continue his recent pitching proficiencies against Fairfield.
However, after an impressive showing of control and pitch selection through the first two innings, a controversial call would change the entire nature of the outing.
The Stags were leading 1-0 with a man on first and third when sophomore Evan Berta bunted a liner foul towards graduate student Robbie Armitage at third base. The ball was initially called out by the home plate umpire but was reversed to a “no catch” after the umpires discussed, extending the at-bat.
“They don’t need to give me clarification on it [the rule],” head coach Chris Tracz said. The entire endeavor confused everyone on the field, including Tracz who was just looking for an explanation on the decision after the initial outcall by the umpire.
This seemingly minuscule event resulted in Berta getting hit by a pitch to load the bases. After a sacrifice fly drove in a run, junior shortstop Mike Becchetti blasted a three-run home run to left field, giving the Stags the early 5-0 lead.
“It spiraled out of control a little bit, but if we get off the field when it’s 2-0, everyone would have felt pretty good about that situation,” Tracz said. The home run happened with two outs, making the non-out call earlier in the inning loom even larger as a potential what-if.
Large deficits are always intimidating, but they do not scare this Marist team. The Red Foxes fought back on multiple occasions on Friday, and this game would be no different. Robbie Armitage drove in Marist’s first run in the bottom of the third to give the team a little life.
Graduate student Gene Napolitano has been this team’s most valuable player this season, and he once again proved his value today. The catcher from New Jersey has excelled at controlling the pitching staff, keeping base runners at bay, and most importantly, he has been tearing the cover off the ball.
Napolitano threw a runner out at second in the first inning and with two on in the bottom of the fifth, he brought the game to within two after tripling down the right-field line. Napolitano is hitting .400 on the season (.500 over his last seven games) with an impressive 13 runs batted in, primarily out of the lead-off spot. Graduate student Reece Armitage then drove him in with a sacrifice fly to cut the Fairfield lead to one.
“We need more guys to emulate how he [Napolitano] competes and plays,” Tracz said. “He’s been really good, and we’re gonna need him to continue to play well and lead us to be successful.”
Following the fifth inning, the Red Foxes’ offense went dry, just unable to get any solid contact off of the Fairfield bullpen. The Stags added a couple of insurance runs in the eighth and ninth innings to stretch their lead to three, though the main issue was Marist could not stir up any offense in the latter part of this game.
“We just haven’t been as good as I think we could when making adjustments, you know, middle to late in the games, and especially with the guys that come out of the pen,” Tracz said.
Marist’s offense was flat today, and if they want to compete with the best of the MAAC, late-game execution is critical. Marist loses two of three to Fairfield and will be looking to return to their winning ways on Tuesday at Merrimack for a 4 p.m. first pitch.
Edited by Jonathan Kinane
Photo from Marist Athletics