March 20, 2010
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. - Down four runs before even coming to bat for the first time, Villanova (13-3) spent the entire game battling back a few runs at a time but ultimately came up short by the smallest of margins in an 11-10 loss to Marist (9-7) on Saturday afternoon at the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth in the second game of the Big Five Baseball Bash. The loss snapped a six-game winning streak for the Wildcats, who had rallied in the ninth inning to win each of their last two games before today.
It came as no surprise after the last two ninth-inning rallies that Villanova would go down swinging today against a worthy Red Foxes team. The Wildcats trailed 11-8 going to the bottom of the ninth inning, had two of the first three batters retired in their final at-bat and still managed to plate two runs while getting the tying and potential winning runs on base. With runners at first and second with two outs, however, a groundball in the infield ended a marathon affair that took three hours and 35 minutes to complete and featured seven different pitchers combine to throw 357 pitches between the two teams.
The offensive production was nothing new for Villanova, especially at the top of the lineup. The first four spots in the batting order produced 11 hits, nine runs scored and seven RBI on the day for the Wildcats, with Matt Szczur (Erma, N.J.) and Justin Bencsko (Pompton Plains, N.J.) getting three hits apiece. Szczur scored four runs, drove in one, walked once and stole two bases to spark the team's offense. He singled with one out and nobody on in the ninth to start an eventual two-run rally, which was capped off by Adam Nelson (St. Joseph, Mo.) sliding a two-run single through the left side to pull Villanova to within one run for the first time since the second inning.
Even with a high-scoring affair and the potential for another late comeback, runs were much easier to come early on in the game. Marist built a quick 4-0 lead in a messy top of the first inning that featured two errors in the field and just one earned run, but the Red Foxes quickly fell victim to the same type of defense when an error of their own helped the Wildcats answer back with three runs in the bottom of the first inning. Both teams scored twice in the second inning to put the Marist lead at 6-5, but the Red Foxes added three runs in the top of the third for a 9-5 advantage.
In the middle innings, Villanova trailed 11-6 after surrendering two more runs in the top of the sixth inning, but once again struck for two runs of their own in the bottom half to narrow the gap to 11-8. The Wildcat bullpen effectively quieted down the Red Foxes late in the game, as Marist managed just two hits after the third inning. Jerry Battipaglia (Katonah, N.Y.) entered the game with a runner at first base and nobody out in the top of the seventh and went the rest of the way for Villanova. He retired nine of the 10 batters he faced, including the last seven, and struck out four over his three innings of work. Before him, Julian Diaz (Trenton, N.J.) allowed two runs on two hits in 3 1/3 innings of work.
Dain Hall (Barrington, Ill.) finished the day 2-for-4 with a pair of walks and three runs scored, while Chris Johnson (Shrewsbury, N.J.) went 2-for-3 with three RBI and a walk. The Wildcats outhit Marist by a margin of 15-11 and drew nine walks while issuing just two. Kevin Wager (Chester, Va.) and David Koczirka (Thornton, Pa.) each had two hits and drove in a run.
It looked like it was going to be a trademark offensive day for Villanova when Szczur led off the home half of the first inning with a single and then stole second base. Bencsko struck out, but was safe at first anyway on a passed ball that allowed moved Szczur up to third. After Szczur scored and Bencsko moved into scoring position on a throwing error committed during a failed pickoff attempt at first base, Johnson hit a two-run double to have the Wildcats right back into the thick of things.
Bencsko and Hall each singled to start the bottom of the sixth inning and Villanova wound up with two runs in the frame on an RBI single by Johnson and a sacrifice fly by Wager. During the inning, however, Marist turned to freshman Dan Zlotnick to try to register the final 12 outs of the contest. Zlotnick pitched well into the ninth inning before tiring and wound up allowing two earned runs on five hits in 3 2/3 innings pitched. He walked three and struck out five and Jake Rifkin got the final groundball for his first save.
Offensively, Richard Curylo had three hits and three runs scored at the top of the order for the Red Foxes, including a two-run inside-the-park home run in the top of the third inning. Bryce Nugent hit a two-run home run off Diaz in the top of the sixth inning. Marist got at least one hit from eight of the nine spots in the lineup and put up 11 runs one day after it scored 21 times in a win over Temple.
The day was over early for both starting pitchers, though both the Wildcats Kyle Helisek (Cranberry Township, Pa.) and the Red Foxes B.J. Martin were at times a victim of the defense behind them. Helisek (2-1, 2.18 ERA) was touched for nine hits and nine runs in 2 2/3 innings, with four of those runs being earned. He walked one and did not have a strikeout in his first outing in 15 days due to last week's rainouts. Martin gave up seven hits and six runs (five earned) in three-plus innings. The winning pitcher for the Red Foxes was Brendan Chapin (1-3, 7.71 ERA), who allowed two runs on three hits in two innings of work.
Villanova will host Youngstown State on Sunday at 12:15 p.m. in the final game of this weekend's local tournament.
NOTES: Bencsko (.551) and Szczur (.500) are both hitting at least .500 through the first 16 games of the season for the Wildcats ... Bencsko stole his BIG EAST-leading 16th base of the season during the game, but was also caught for the first time all year ... Villanova stranded 14 runners on base despite going 6-for-17 (.353) with runners in scoring position ... The Wildcats have an outstanding .976 team fielding percentage this season and the four errors committed today matched the combined total of miscues from the previous seven games ... Before allowing two home runs today, Villanova had gone six straight games without allowing a long ball since their previous loss, an 8-7 setback to Western Michigan ... The Wildcats have hit just one home run on the season, which came in the fourth game of the year against Purdue ... Today was the third straight game with three hits for Szczur, who is batting .609 (14-23) over his last five contests.