March 5, 2009
PALM BEACH, Fla. - The top three hitters in the lineup combined to score six runs and steal eight bases and Villanova (3-6) ran its way to a 12-4 win over Akron (1-9) on Thursday afternoon in the Palm Beach Challenge at Santaluces Sports Complex. The Wildcats stole 11 bases and won for the third time in six games during their Spring Break trip to the Sunshine State.
Sophomore Dain Hall (Barrington, Ill.) batted third for the second time this season and went 3-for-6 with two runs scored, two RBI and three stolen bases to help lead the Villanova charge. Redshirt freshman Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) led off and extended his hitting streak to eight games with an infield single to go along with two walks and two runs scored. Junior Justin Bencsko (Pompton Plains, N.J.) completed the triumvirate at the top of the order with two walks and two runs scored to go along with three steals.
All of the small ball supported the efforts of junior Brian Streilein (Staten Island, N.Y.), who turned in seven solid innings in his third start of the season. Streilein (1-2, 7.20 ERA) scattered just six hits and two earned runs in the longest outing of the year by a Wildcat starter, striking out six and walking none. Villanova pulled away from a 2-1 lead with four runs in the fourth inning and then put the game out of reach with a five-spot in the top of the eighth.
A four-run rally in the fourth inning showcased the full spectrum of the capabilities of the Villanova offense. Senior Matt McFolling (Chicago, Ill.) led off with a solo home run and redshirt freshman David Koczirka (Thornton, Pa.) dropped a double into left field. Koczirka scored following a sacrifice bunt by freshman Marlon Calbi (Montclair, N.J.) and a run-scoring groundout by Szczur. The inning after a walk to Bencsko was followed by an RBI-double by Hall and a run-scoring single off the bat of senior Wes Borden (State College, Pa.).
Streilein retired 10 of 12 batters at one point during the middle innings of the game and fanned the final two hitters of the seventh inning to complete his outing. The Wildcats led 6-2 at that point but exploded for five runs in the top of the eighth to secure the outcome. All five runs came after there were two outs and nobody on, as a single up the middle by Hall on the first pitch of his at-bat got things started. After Borden walked, Hall stole third and continued home on a throwing error made on the play. The error also allowed Borden to take second, where he was in position to score on a single by senior Kyle Carver (Aldan, Pa.). Senior Joe Cotter (Bryn Mawr, Pa.) then tripled to right field for another run, McFolling walked and both runners scored on a dropped pop fly that extended the inning further.
Matt Roberts was 3-for-4 and Kevin Haas had two hits and a run scored for the Zips, who played a pair of games against Lehigh and North Carolina State on Wednesday, the second of which lasted 18 innings and didn't end until nearly 11 p.m.
Starting pitcher Ryan Lavery (0-1, 9.00) allowed seven hits and four walks in four innings pitched, with five of the six runs charged to his account being earned. He struck out four and reliever Alex Loftin fanned six in three scoreless innings as four Akron pitchers combined for 12 strikeouts.
Both teams scored a single run in the first inning and Villanova retook the lead with a run in the top of the third before the stretching the margin later on. In the first inning, Szczur walked to leadoff the game, Bencsko reached on an error and the pair executed a successful double steal. Szczur scored on a fly ball double play to center field that resulted in Bencsko being thrown out at third. In the third inning, Bencsko was at third and Hall at first with one out when the Wildcats put on the second of their three double steals of the game. This time the move came on a pickoff attempt at first base; Hall was caught in a run down which was abandoned in an unsuccessful attempt to throw Bencsko out at the plate.
The Zips got an RBI single from Roberts in the bottom of the first inning and a run-scoring groundout by Kyle Hallett in the sixth.
Villanova plays its final game in Florida on Friday at Noon against New York Tech.
NOTES: The Wildcats had stolen just seven bases in 13 tries through their first eight games before going 11-for-11 today ... Szczur went 0-for-4 in the season opener in his college baseball debut but has had a hit in every game since ... Bencsko had two runs scored and three stolen bases without the benefit of a hit, as he drew two of Villanova's eight bases on balls.