Grab ’em by the horns: UD hands conference-leading VCU just its fourth loss of the Atlantic 10 season to split a doubleheader.
Dayton – Winning its remaining conference games is almost a requirement for the Dayton Flyers to qualify for the Atlantic 10 Conference baseball tournament.
On Saturday, they showed that might not be as crazy as it sounds. Dayton handed conference-leader Virginia Commonwealth (VCU) just its fourth conference loss this season in splitting a doubleheader with the Rams at Woerner Field at Spectrum Stadium.
The top seven teams qualify for the postseason tournament in St. Louis on May 24-27. VCU is locked in at 16-4. Dayton is currently locked out at 5-12, sitting 12th out of 13 teams in the standings. The Flyers were two wins behind the coveted No. 7 spot, held by Saint Louis, entering weekend action.
In Saturday’s opener, Dayton sent senior Kevin Piersol to the mound. Piersol, who had two solid previous outings, said he’d been battling tightness in his right arm. But the Albuquerque, N.M., native got a shot in it – in the form of a dose of confidence – with 5.1 solid innings in a 4-2 victory. It was Dayton’s first win at Spectrum Stadium since March 29.
VCU entered ranked No. 2 in the A10 with a .285 batting average. Piersol (1-3) held the Rams in check with four hits and one run. He walked five and struck out three.
“I felt great. My arm felt good. I’ve been battling some tightness in my arm but today I felt good all the way through,” said Piersol, who threw 106 pitches. “It was more pitches than I wanted to throw, but I just tried to battle and throw as many strikes as I could.”
It was the third straight solid outing for Piersol. He held Saint Louis to four runs on eight hits, walking three and striking out three, in UD’s loss on April 21. He allowed one run on five hits in UD’s win at Massachusetts on April 28, striking out six and walking one.
“Huge boost of confidence,” Piersol said. “That’s the best team in the conference. My approach was to beat up the zone and throw as many strikes as I could. … (I threw) the cutter all day long and I was able to throw enough fastballs for strikes and threw a few curveballs just to show them something else.”
Piersol gave up a home run to start the sixth inning, cutting Dayton’s lead to 4-1. After a one-out walk, Piersol was relieved by sophomore lefty Tyler Henry. He got a fly out to right and catcher Bailey Montoya ended the inning by cutting down a runner attempting to steal second.
Henry faced three batters in the top of the ninth, starting with a pop up. The next two reached on a single to center and a walk. Junior lefty Peter Rozman relieved Henry, who allowed one hit and one run while walking two and striking out two.
Rozman – whose first throw was a wild pitch to put both runners in scoring position – got a ground out and ended the game with a strike out for his first save.
“I knew I had to get the job done,” Rozman said. “Kevin and Tyler pitched a great game and I knew I had to finish it out. … I felt good up there. Just throw strikes and trust myself.”
Freshman Brandon Smith went 2-for-3 with two runs batted in to lead UD’s offense. Sophomore Pat Meehan and freshman Tate Hagan both had two-out RBI singles in a big three-run fifth inning. Freshman Brantley Johnson and senior Nick Ryan had doubles in the fifth.
Overall, Dayton had seven hits and left six on base against VCU. The Rams managed five hits and left 10 on base – many courtesy of seven walks – in the opener.
“At any level baseball starts with pitching and I thought we got great pitching out of all three of our guys,” UD coach Tony Vittorio said. “VCU is a good hitting team. I thought we pitched well and had a big hit or two in that three-run inning.”
VCU avoided the doubleheader sweep by getting to sophomore right-hander Austin Cline. The Rams scored two runs in the third and added three more in the fifth for a 5-1 lead. Cline allowed seven hits, five runs, walked two and struck out three.
Dayton managed its lone run in the third. Freshman Connor Wilson singled, advanced to second on a wild pitch and stole third. He scored on Johnson’s sacrifice fly.
Dayton finished with four hits and left four on base. VCU roughed up four UD pitchers for 12 hits and left nine on base.
“The last three weekends – even though we lost two of three to St. Louis – I thought we competed well on the mound and played good defense,” Vittorio said. “We just didn’t hit offensively. Last weekend we won two of three. We pitched pretty well all three games. Today, we pitched well in game one. I thought Austin really struggled with command in game two and VCU took advantage of it.”
Dayton hosts VCU in the series finale on Sunday. Two non-conference games follow at Wright State on Tuesday and at Toledo on Wednesday.
UD travels to Saint Joseph’s (14-29 overall, 6-10 A10) for a three-game series Friday through Sunday. After a non-league game at Bowling Green on May 16, Dayton wraps up the regular season hosting La Salle (9-34, 3-13 A10) for a three-game series May 18-20.
“We want to win every game regardless. There’s no pressure,” Piersol said. “We’re out here having fun. It’s a great group of guys and we love coming to the ballpark. We love each other more than anything. We’re going to show up the last part of the season, for sure.
“The team knows we can get anybody out there. We just have to show up and we showed up the first game. We haven’t been good all year with doubleheaders. It’s something we have to work on. I think we can finish this thing out strong. If we win (Sunday) we can win out the rest of the season. I’m feeling optimistic about it.”
* Flyer baseball is sponsored, in part, by the generous support of Aldebaran Capital, LLC