On a picture-perfect Tuesday afternoon for baseball, the Marist Red Foxes hosted the University of Albany Great Danes for their home opener. Both teams entered this non-conference game struggling, as each was looking to snap an eight-game losing streak. However, Marist would finish victorious, defeating Albany 7-5 on the backs of one of their strongest pitching performances to date.
Head coach Lance Ratchford entrusted the ball to freshman southpaw AJ Thomas in what he planned on being a bullpen game with no true starting pitchers available. Despite struggling with command early, Thomas was able to induce a 6-4-3 double play to escape the jam and keep Albany off the board.
In the bottom of the second, with two runners in scoring position, senior designated hitter Justin Kapuscinski launched a towering fly ball to left field that cleared the fence for his first hit of the season. This three-run home run gave the Red Foxes the early lead in Kapuscinski’s first game since February 17th after breaking his finger in the season opener at USC.
“It was awesome. I was just waiting and waiting and first pitch, first at-bat back it was just a great feeling,” Kapuscinski said.
The two teams traded runs in the third inning after graduate student Nicholas Butler lost the ball in the left field to allow Albany to crack the scoreboard. However, a sacrifice fly from freshman Bayram Hot gave them the run right back in the bottom of the inning.
Other than one, potentially sun-induced misplay in left field, the Marist pitching was stellar through the first seven innings. The team earned run average entering this game was a mortifying 10.64 on the season. A few outlier games certainly inflated this number, but this issue has been at the center of their early season woes.
“We know that the talent is there. These guys just have to put together a couple of good outings in a row to get into a good rhythm,” Ratchford said.
Thomas, senior Danny Keon, sophomore Marko Gibbons and freshman Steven Mazza threw a combined seven innings of one-run ball in a game the team desperately needed.
In the bottom of the sixth, one of the Red Foxes’ most consistent hitters throughout his Marist tenure, graduate student Brian Hart provided Marist with insurance. After the home team tacked on an additional run in the fourth inning, Hart gave the Red Foxes breathing room with a clutch two-out opposite-field double to plate two more runs. The outfielder extended his hitting streak to ten games, batting .429 during this span, as the Marist three-hitter has finally returned to form after a challenging start to the season.
“My thing is getting back to the basics and trying to do what I can for the team,” Hart said. “I’ve tried to decrease my strikeout rate and just putting the ball in play to give me a chance to get on base.”
Marist had all the momentum entering the eighth inning, however junior Hunter Sabbers had trouble finding his control, allowing two walks, two hits and a hit by pitch in one-third of an inning to allow the Great Danes back into the game. Albany brought the game to within three with the tying run at the plate, but graduate student Zane Kmietek came in to relieve Sabbers and halted any comeback ideas by getting the next two batters out to put the inning to rest.
After Albany prevented any insurance runs from being scored in the top of the ninth, Kmietek returned to the mound to try and earn the save. After two runners reached to allow the tying run to step up to the plate, the Marist faithful began to worry, but Kmietek controlled the damage and sealed the victory in a high-leverage final two innings.
“He’s really been in some big spots, but against some really good offensive teams. It was great to see him go out there and put his foot down and get that save,” Ratchford said.
Marist finally returns to the win column, as they remain valiant at home after 25 consecutive road games. The struggles of being a Northeastern team are tough, but the schedule is finally catering toward their favor in terms of travel, as they hope to continue their strong play heading into this upcoming weekend.
“I think we’re a different type of team on our own turf. It was definitely a step in the right direction and we want to be that team that is just nails at home,” Ratchford said.
The Red Foxes return to action Thursday, Apr. 6 at 3 p.m. when they host Mount St. Mary’s for their first MAAC home series of the season.
Edited by Andrew Hard
Photo from Marist Athletics