The Flyers didn’t play as well as they had hoped,but they played well enough to feel good about a year’s improvement within the program. All in all, it wasn’t a bad opening day.
Spartanburg, SC – In many ways it was a typical opening baseball game.
Tony Vittorio’s Dayton Flyers dropped their 2016 opener to a very good Stony Brook University team by a score of 11-6…a team that just three seasons ago appeared in the NCAA College World Series in Omaha.
If you aren’t aware, Stoney Brook can be found on the outer reaches of Long Island, New York, hence their nicknames, The Seawolves.
And, Long Island baseball in February isn’t known for its popularity or thought of for its efficiency in style. But let me tell you, the “Seawolves” proved Friday afternoon that baseball does matter in the heart of a New York winter…and that they’re very well-schooled in doing the little things right.
They pitched well enough.
And when plays needed to be made in the field, well, they weren’t exactly armed with fishing nets out there. They played errorless baseball.
Dayton, on the other hand, looked like a team that was building, which in fact is exactly what Tony Vittorio will tell you he’s doing. By contrast, they didn’t pitch as well as Stoney Brook. They didn’t hit with the timely efficiency of Stoney Brook, but they did play good defense.
Impressively, the Flyers turned three key double plays in the infield to extricate their pitchers from potentially disastrous innings, and for the game. Likewise, they played error-free as a team.
The one negative for the Flyers was undoubtedly their starting pitching. Senior Sam Brunner got the debut assignment and simply could not command the strike zone. Staked to a one-run lead in the top of the first, Brunner proceeded to walk 7 in 3 1/3 innings, while striking out 4 and giving up 5 earned runs.
“He kinda’ pitched in and out of a rhythm,” said pitching coach Ryne Romick. “But he’ll be fine.”
And to be sure, Brunner threw hard enough, and competitively enough, to prove that indeed he’ll have better days.
But the story of the day for the Flyers wasn’t the final score, or their inability to hit with runners in scoring position.
Rather, it was the work out of the bullpen of their three freshman pitchers…Austin Cline (Ben Logan HS), Brandon Smith (Floyd Knobs, Indiana), and Tyler Henry (Middletown Madison) that put a smile on Romick’s face and confidence in the corrective process that Vittorio has worked on tirelessly since last year’s 18-36 record.
Cline came on in the fifth inning and promptly struck out the first two hitters he faced before giving up a two-out double, a hit batsman, a walk on a questionable 3-2 pitch, and a bases-clearing double. Undaunted, he returned in the sixth to pitch a perfect frame.
Smith, a hard-thrower with a square jaw and a menacing glare, was just as efficient in his lone inning of work, giving up a walk without further damage.
Henry, a lefthander with a snapping breaking ball, gave up a base hit after retiring the first two hitters in the eighth, before cashing out with a harmless popup for the final out.
“I was a little nervous when I started out,” admitted Cline, an All-Ohio performer last year in the baseball-rich Central Buckeye Conference. “But I was confident. I made a couple of mistakes in the strike zone. The pitch where they got their runs was out over the plate. But I’m ready to go back out there and they told me I might get another opportunity on Sunday.”
“I was very pleased with all three,” said Romick. “We need performances like that and it was very encouraging for the program to see them come out like they did today and get their feet wet without a lot of stress.”
Bottom line, a lot of things CAN go wrong in a baseball game. But for openers, on Friday, it really boiled down to too many walks (11), and not enough hitting with runners on base early in the game, when the Flyers had a chance to put pressure on the Seadogs’ bullpen, rather than that same scenario put on them.
But it was opening day. You play these game in South Carolina to see just how far you’ve come from last year, and 18-36. Vittorio and the Flyers saw more than enough…to make them come back again and play tomorrow.
* Coverage of the UD Flyers is sponsored, in part, by team members of the class of 2004.