Don’t ask Tony Vittorio and the UD Flyers about the lyrics to well-known song. It would be finer in Carolina if the Flyers could come home from this weekend with at least one win.
SPARTANBURG, S.C. — For this time of year, Tony Vittorio schedules his University of Dayton baseball team for some fun in the sun, a trip south to escape the February’s great white north — the snow, the cheek-freezing winds and frostbite.
But a little bit of home followed the Flyers this weekend and when they arrived at Cleveland S. Harley Baseball Field Saturday afternoon in not-so-sunny South Carolina it was 58 degrees under battleship gray skies with a cutting wind of seven miles per hour.
Fans were hiding under hoodies, their hands buried in pockets and the American flag flapped on the pole as if trying to break free.
When UD athletic trainer Cody Lucas heard that it was 70 degrees and sun-covered back in Dayton he said, “We should have scheduled this event back at UD.”
Indeed, that would have saved about 20 hours of bus rides, a plethora of boxed and styrofoamed lunches. And it would have saved Vittorio the discomfort of wearing a tee-shirt, a sweat shirt and a jacket when he coached third base.
And perhaps the home-cooking, home-field-advantage and just plain home sweet home might have saved the Flyers the ignominy of starting the 2016 season 0-and-2.
The Flyers were matched Saturday against one of the two host teams in this season-opening Spartanburg Classic, the University of South Carolinia-Upstate.
Both UD and Upstate are trying to resuscitate their programs this year after the Flyers went 16-38 last season and Upstate went an almost identical 15-38.
And the game was tight, could have gone either way, but there was no southern comfort for the Flyers because they lost, 6-4.
After falling behind early, 4-1, the Flyers rallied to tie it, 4-4,on a couple of Upstate errors in the fifth inning, but could score no more. Upstate got a two-out, two-run double from first baseman Charlie Carpenter. It came against Dayton’s newly anointed closer, Charlie Dant.
Dant was one pitch away from wriggling free in the eighth but with one on and one out he walked Dayton native Pat Raiff, a grandson to former star Chaminade quarterback Jerry Raiff.
And Carpenter nailed it again, with another double. He drove in three runs during Upstate’s four-run second inning with a three-run double and drove in five of his team’s six runs.
The Flyers crippled themselves by striking out 13 times while Upland whiffed only four times. And just as they did in their season-opening loss Friday to Stony Brook, 11-6, many of those strikeouts were called strike threes with runners in scoring position.
On the positive side, one of Vittorio’s concerns this season was his team’s defense. But in the first two games the Flyers have yet to make an error and have covered more ground than the U.S. Marine Corps.
On Saturday, third baseman Robbie Doring made three top-of-the shelf plays and the Flyers turned their fourth double play in two games. Right fielder Mitch Coughlin made a diving catch on Raiff in the third.
Doring, a 6-foot-2, 193-pound junior from Grafton, Wisc., made a jaw-popping backhanded stab on a high-velocity liner on Upland’s second hitter of the game and threw him out.
Doring made another above and beyond stop-and-throw on a sizzler in the fourth and ranged deep, far and wide in foul territory to snag Raiff’s foul ball in the seventh.
“Yeah, I love playing defense,” said Doring, who is listed as both an outfielder and infielder. “Last year I played a lot of outfield, but I grew up playing shortstop and I like being in the infield. But wherever we can play the best nine guys, that’s where I want to be — outfield or infield.”
And Doring nearly helped the Flyers score a go ahead run when it was tied, 4-4, in the eighth. He singled with one out and promptly stole second base. But Matt Poland flied to left and Sam Sustersik took a called third strike.
“As a team, that’s our motto, ‘Get on first and take second base,’” said Doring. “We came up short today, just missed on a few clutch hits, but we’re right there.”
Doring is right there, too, right where he wants to be in a UD uniform. He came to Dayton from Vincennes (Ind.) Junior College and was a walk-on.
“I walked on my freshman year and left, went to Vincennes on the recommendation of Joe Bratton, who played here. I had a good year and came to UD, the only place I wanted to be. Both my parents went here (Chris and Tom). It’s the only place I wanted to be and I’m happy to be a Flyer.”
Of his team’s Great Wall of China defense, Vittorio said, “Our goal going into this season was to fix our infield, through recruiting and with our returning players. They are playing well and defense always has to stay consistent throughout the year.”
The always upbeat and effervescent Vittorio was on the downbeat after Saturday’s setback.
“The whole difference today was that we struck out 13 times and they struck out four times,” he said. “We had to catch it and field it and throw it way more than they did. We put no pressure on their defense.
“In the eighth, we need to go after that No. 7 hitter (Raiff) with two outs, a guy who couldn’t catch up to a fastball with his bat speed. That was the whole difference, it was walking that kid.”
The Flyers get another chance in South Carolina Sunday morning at 10, but it isn’t an easy assignment. They play the University of Kentucky, a program on the uptick the past several years.
* Coverage of Flyer baseball on Press Pros is sponsored, in part, by team members from the Class of 2004!