The men’s baseball team is tough.

Just look at its season opener on March 8 against Drew College. Trailing by four in the bottom of the ninth, UR scored five runs to grab a 15-14 victory thanks to RBIs from freshman outfielder Matt Francis and infielders sophomore Blayne Fuke and junior Dan Brien.

In the next two days, the ‘Jackets faced off against last year’s Liberty League Champions, the Skidmore College Thoroughbreds, in two double headers and won all four games.

“Picking up those four wins in LL conference play is very big for us,” head coach Joe Reina said.

In the first game, junior pitcher Blair Veenema stole the show, allowing only one earned run while striking out 10 Skidmore players and leading the Yellowjackets to a 3-2 victory.

UR held a 3-0 lead going into the bottom of the fifth, but Skidmore made a charge late, getting within a run in the sixth inning off an RBI double. Senior pitcher John Fishback ended any hope of a Thoroughbred comeback, however, in the bottom of the seventh. He picked up the save by striking out all three Skidmore batters.

In the second game, Fuke’s four RBIs propelled the ‘Jackets to an 11-6 victory. The sophomore is one of many returning players on the UR team and was the only player to start every game last year. Junior Ryan Sullivan was also instrumental in the win, going three for six at the plate and notching two doubles.

In the third match-up against the Thoroughbreds, the ‘Jackets were able to come away with a 5-4 victory despite six errors.

Senior Ed Kahovec led the way for UR, going three for five and notching a single in the ninth inning that brought home two runners and gave the ‘Jackets the win.

The ‘Jackets again showed their prowess for come-from-behind wins in an 8-7 victory in the final game against Skidmore. In this one, the Thoroughbreds had built up a 7-2 lead through four and a half innings. But with help from back-to-back three-run innings, UR was able to overcome the deficit.

In the fifth, a triple from Sullivan that brought home two runs kicked off the comeback bid. In the sixth, senior Jay Jay Vanderstyne’s double scored two more runners for the ‘Jackets and gave them the lead.

Following the sweep of Skidmore, UR entered into the University Athletic Association Championships. The ‘Jackets went 3-3 on the trip, picking up a win against Case Western Reserve University and two wins versus Washington University in St. Louis while dropping a games each to Brandeis University, Emory University and Case.

The Yellowjackets opened the conference schedule with a loss to the Judges of Brandeis. The defeat exploited the weakness of UR’s bullpen – the four runs given up by the ‘Jackets in the seventh inning were what propelled the Judges to a 10-7 victory.

“That is an area we need to get better in,” Reina said. “We made some adjustments on defense and that got better while we were in Florida.”

UR quickly rebounded from the loss with an 11-6 win over Case. The difference was a nine-run second inning that was fueled by two RBIs from Fuke.

Luke Brocks picked up the win at the mound, allowing two unearned runs and three hits through five innings.

The second match-up against Case was again a testament to the limitations of a still-developing UR bullpen. The ‘Jackets gave up four runs in the bottom of the ninth and lost the game 4-3.

UR obtained a three-run cushion in the seventh thanks to two RBIs from Fuke, but the ‘Jacket closers were unable to hang on in the defeat. In the final inning, the pitching committee combined for four walks and two errors, while allowing four hits.

The ‘Jackets followed up the Case series with a 2-0 win over Wash U. Senior pitcher Pete McEneaney was solid at the mound, allowing no earned runs while striking out six through eight innings. UR broke the stalemate in the fourth inning thanks to a triple from junior Tyler Reid and picked up an insurance run in the ninth inning on an RBI single from Sullivan.

On the last day of UAA competition, it all came down to the pitching for UR.

In the first game against Wash U, the ‘Jackets pulled out a 2-0 victory thanks to eight strong innings of pitching from McEneaney. The senior allowed four hits while striking out six batters.

The ‘Jackets then dropped the finale to Emory, 11-15. In the game, UR was lit up for seven runs in the seventh inning, due in part to five wild pitches and three walks. Emory added three more runs in the eighth inning to solidify the victory.

Kahovec went three for six and Francis had three RBIs.

Six UR players earned All-UAA honors in the Championships – Francis, Vanderstyne, Sullivan and Kahovec were First Team selections while McEneaney and sophomore pitcher Steven Guzski picked up Second Team honors.

“We hit the ball better than we have since I have been here as coach,” Reina said. “The pitching we faced was very good and our guys had quality at bats all the way down the line-up.”

Reina also discussed the impact of newcomers to the upperclassmen-heavy lineup.

“With some of [the returning players] being injured, younger players have had an opportunity to get some playing time, and they responded well,” Reina said. “Players like [freshman] Steve Just and Matt Francis really played well.”

With games delayed on Tuesday and yesterday due to field conditions, UR hopes to start back up this weekend in a doubleheader against St. Lawrence University.

“Now we wait,” Reina said. “This is the tough part. Hopefully, the weather will cooperate and we can get outside.”

Hilfinger is a member of the class of 2010.

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