RPI faces Rochester for weekend hits stride in finale

JUNIOR SHORTSTOP NICK PALMIERO CONNECTS with the baseball during a game against Skidmore College on April 8.

On the weekend of April 5, the RPI baseball team took on the University of Rochester for two days of doubleheaders. After losing the first three, the men won decisively in the fourth game, 10-1.

In the opening game of the four-game series, men’s baseball ran into a double-sided buzz saw of Rochester offense and defense. In the top of the first inning, centerfielder Matt Todd reached first on a bunt single and proceeded to second on an error by RPI freshman starting pitcher Adam Aponte. Then, after a sacrifice fly moved Todd to third, a wild pitch allowed Todd to score the only run Rochester would need in the contest. After seven runs in the third on three hits and two errors, Rochester never looked back. The final score: 12-0 Rochester.

The day wasn’t over yet, though. In game two, Rensselaer showed its ability to fight back after losing. This time Rochester’s catcher Nolan Schultz singled on an infield grounder to shortstop, and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Then, a single from Brendan Garry allowed Schultz to score and give Rochester its second 1-0 lead. But, this time RPI answered. With one out in the bottom of the second, senior right fielder Shane Matthews singled. Later, with two outs and Matthews on first, senior catcher Eric Kozak blasted a double to the fence and allowed Matthews to score RPI’s tying run.

In what turned into a Saturday afternoon trend, the Yellow Jackets had five runs in the third inning. After leadoff hitter Sam Slutsky doubled to right center and Todd singled, Rochester had two runners on base with no outs. This time Schultz hit a line drive down the right field line and reached second on a two-RBI double. Two batters later, Rochester’s Will Conroy singled in Schultz to give Rochester a 4-1 edge. Then a subsequent walk and error later, the bases were loaded for Rochester second baseman Nate Mulberg, who earned the RBI on a bases loaded walk that made the score 5-1. Then, a grounder from shortstop Brandon Heinrich allowed Rensselaer to get the sure out at second; this allowed right fielder Josh Ludwig to score the final Rochester run of the inning. After an RPI pitching change, in which sophomore Ash Rao came on in relief of freshman Jack Krasovec, Rao forced a Todd pop-up to bring a merciful end to the inning.

After one scoreless inning for both RPI and Rochester, RPI’s bats heated up in the bottom of the fourth. Two walks and a fielder’s choice to start the inning put junior shortstop Nick Palmiero on third and Matthews on first with one out. Freshman second baseman Matt Lawrence delivered, singling to center and driving in Palmiero for RPI’s second run. Then, a Kozak groundout to first gave Matthews enough time to scamper home and cut the Rochester lead to three.

A Todd RBI single to right field in the top of the fifth, made the score 7-3 Rochester, after four and a half innings of play. In the bottom half of the fifth, a single to right center by senior designated hitter Al Mersman allowed junior third baseman Tim LeSuer to score from second. Then, Palmiero walked and RPI was in business with runners on first and second. But a pitching change for Rochester resulted in a groundout and pop-out, ending an important scoring opportunity for the Engineers.

Later, singles in the seventh inning by Todd, Schultz, and Garry allowed Rochester to build a five-run cushion after six and a half innings. Again, RPI fought back. Mersman singled to left. Then, a one-out pinch-hit single for freshman Thomas Desmond put runners at first and third. A groundout by junior Jared Jensen allowed Mersman to score. But, once more that was the lone run of the inning.

In the bottom of the eighth, Rensselaer took full advantage of its scoring opportunities. Senior first baseman Andrew Kalish started things off with a one-out roller past short into left; Mersman walked. Palmiero doubled down the right field line, scoring Kalish. Then Desmond delivered again with a sacrifice fly to deep center, making it a two-run game. Then, a wild pitch by Rochester’s Rob Mabee allowed Palmiero to snag home and make it a 9-8 ballgame after eight innings.

But a run in the ninth was more than enough for Rochester as Rensselaer managed two hits but no runs in its final half-inning. The final score: RPI 8, Rochester 10.

Sunday afternoon brought two polar opposite results. In the first game, Rochester dominated the action, scoring three in the first, two in the second, one in the third, and five in the fourth to blow it wide open. The final score was 14-2 Rochester. For Rochester, Michael Mondon pitched a complete game, giving up just two runs on six hits, and moving his record to 2-2 for the season. For Rensselaer, a hodge-podge of five pitchers combined for 14 earned runs on sixteen hits surrendered. At the end of the contest, RPI’s freshman pinch hitter Steven Wells doubled and subsequently scored on a freshman first baseman Thomas Kensi RBI single, a sign of things to come.

In the second game, Rochester took its foot off the gas and RPI responded with a 10-1 drubbing of Rochester to avoid the series sweep. Engineers senior starting pitcher Sean Conroy turned in a complete game of his own, giving up just one run on nine hits with nine strikeouts, and improving his record to 3-0 for the season. It wasn’t until the game was well out of hand that Rochester finally scored its lone run in the bottom of the eighth. And this time, no pitcher Rochester threw at the Engineers slowed down a suddenly surging offense. The Engineers scored 10 runs on the game with just 10 hits. Though, drawing 11 walks didn’t hurt. It was LeSuer who turned in the best batting performance for the Engineers, bashing three doubles and a single, knocking in three runs, and scoring two of this own. Mersman also reached base four times, two of those coming on walks, and accumulated two RBIs and a run in addition. Palmiero, Kozak, and sophomore outfielder Nick Annunziata added a double each to the hit count.

With the win, the Engineers finished the weekend with a 12-8 record overall and a record of 5-5 in the Liberty League. Next weekend, the Engineers will have a four game series against Capital Region rival Union College. Saturday’s games will be played at Robison Field, and Sunday’s games will be played in Schenectady.