Columbia baseball kicked off its 2009 campaign this weekend in Beaumont, Texas as the team took on non-conference foe Lamar University. While the Lions suffered losses in the first three games of the series, they broke out the offense and avoided a sweep with a 15-8 victory on Sunday.
Despite a strong pitching performance from Joe Scarlata, the Lions’ offense was unable to match Lamar’s in game one. The Cardinals got on the board early with a solo home run from senior outfielder Tyler Link and an unearned run after a fielding error by Columbia in the first inning.
Senior pitcher Ricky Testa stymied Light Blue hitters in their first action of the year, striking out seven over eight innings of three-hit, shutout ball. The Lions adhered to their game plan of staying aggressive on the base path, but Lamar countered by catching all three stolen-base attempts. Lamar picked up its final run of the game in the second on an RBI groundout en route to a 3-0 shutout. The lack of offense wasted a strong effort by Scarlata, who allowed only two earned runs on four hits over his seven innings of work.
The two teams battled again in a double-header series on Saturday. Sophomore Geoff Whitaker didn’t fare well as he surrendered five earned runs on nine hits over 4 2/3 innings. Once again, Lamar wasted no time putting numbers on the board as a triple by Link jump-started a big bottom of the first. Columbia’s defense committed three errors in the inning, allowing the Cardinals to score four runs on just four hits. Lamar proceeded to plate eight more runs over the next six innings and win the first game of the day by a score of 12-0.
The Lions’ hitters remained cold in the first half of the doubleheader, picking up only five hits in the contest. Lamar’s Eric Harrington picked up his second win of the season by striking out six batters over seven innings for a complete-game shutout. Five Columbia errors didn’t help matters as Whitaker and relief pitcher Harrison Slutsky were only charged with a combined seven earned runs out of the 12 on the game.
The Light Blue managed to score for the first time this season in the second game of Saturday’s double-header, but it was of little avail in a 16-4 loss. Things seemed to start off well for Columbia as outfielder Billy Rumpke ripped a double down the right-field line with one out in the first. But the freshman was stranded at second as the Lions failed to capitalize on the opportunity.
For the third consecutive game, Lamar scored first, this time on a two-run blast by second baseman Brian Taylor in the third. The Cardinals were relentless, putting up a five-spot in the fourth and tacking on four more runs in the fifth. The Lions showed signs of life as they plated four runs on four hits in the top of the seventh. Left fielder Anthony Potter connected for a two-run homer, the first of his collegiate career, knocking in himself and shortstop Alex Ferrera. Joey Mizzoni was brought in for relief to close out the seventh and provided anything but, allowing five runs to cross home plate on three Cardinal home runs.
As the Cardinals took the field for Sunday’s contest in anticipation of a four-game sweep, the Lions salvaged a win with an offensive barrage. The Light Blue took its first lead of the season in the first inning as senior Ron Williams clubbed a triple to bring home Rumpke from first. The next hitters followed suit with three hits to bring in three more runs. Down 6-0 entering the bottom of the second, Lamar finally got on to the scoreboard as Columbia starter Zach Epstein walked three batters and gave up a hit, allowing the Cardinals to post two runs. But after a scoreless third and fourth, Columbia’s offense struck hard again as Williams and center fielder Jon Eisen hit RBI singles in the top of the fifth. A third run crossed home on a ground out double play from Rumpke.
The teams continued to trade runs back and forth as Lamar scored one in the fifth, three in the sixth, and two in the eighth. The Lions diligently continued to light up opposing pitching with a barrage of hits, however, and put up three in the seventh and ninth innings to pick up their first win of the season, 15-8. Columbia out-hit Lamar 19-5 on the day and didn’t commit a single error, while the Cardinals were charged with five on the day.
Seven Lions had multi-hit games including third baseman Mike Roberts, who went 4-for-6 with three RBIs and three runs scored. Eisen also had an impressive outing as he went 3-7 with one RBI. Reliever Roger Aquino won his first game of the season while the Cardinals’ Guillermo Cienfuegos, who gave up six earned runs on six hits and two walks in just one inning of work, fell to 1-1. With the victory, the Light Blue improved to a 1-3 record and ended the Cardinals’ nine-game winning streak, dropping them to 9-1 on the season.
Columbia’s next series begins on the road next Saturday, March 7 with a double-header against UNC Charlotte at noon. The series will conclude with a 1 p.m. game on Sunday.