by PETE JANNY, Asst. Sports Editor
The Manhattan baseball team (4-14) made the crosstown trek to Fordham last Wednesday in urgent need of a win amidst an early season cold stretch.
Fresh off of a four-game sweep at the hands of Michigan, the Jaspers entered play losers of five straight games and on the wrong side of seven of their last eight tilts. Moreover, the Jaspers hadn’t tasted victory in over a week with their last triumph coming on March 10th against George Mason.
Despite the ominous trajectory of their season up to this point, Manhattan’s record doesn’t do them justice. The Jaspers have had to navigate a remarkably difficult schedule that has featured the likes of Virginia Tech, Sam Houston State, George Washington, George Mason, and Michigan. Not to mention Manhattan has had to play all but their March 12th meeting with NJIT, which resulted in a 3-2 loss, away from the friendly confines of Dutchess Stadium.
All things considered, choosing to assess Manhattan’s season with a glass half full attitude doesn’t erase the frustrations of losing 13 games by mid-March. Given the team’s adverse circumstances, this year’s Battle of the Bronx showdown with the Fordham Rams (12-9) seemingly had added importance for the Jaspers.
On this day, however, the Rams were clearly the superior side. Manhattan had no response to Fordham’s 10-hit attack that propelled the Rams to a dominant 9-0 win.
Manhattan threatened in the top of the first inning when they put together a two-out rally by way of a Nick Cimillo hit-by-pitch and a Dominic Palma single into right field. Manhattan would leave both runners stranded when junior Alex Cerda struck out swinging to end the inning.
Unfortunately for Manhattan, the Rams were active with the bats for most of the afternoon.
Fordham drew blood first in the second inning when freshman Andy Semo launched his first career home run that just about made it over the left field wall to give the Rams a 1-0 lead.
Manhattan looked to retaliate in the top half of the third when they again put runners on first and second. After freshman Keury Abreu led off the inning with a groundout to second, graduate student Shawn Blake reached on an error by the Fordham third baseman who failed to haul in Blake’s high pop fly. A batter later, freshman catcher Nick Cimillo continued his excellent season at the plate when he knocked a one-out single into left field to set up Palma with runners positioned on first and second. Palma and Cerda would end up striking out in succession to terminate a potential Manhattan outburst.
The Rams mustered another run in the bottom half of the third inning thanks to the gritty efforts of sophomore Jake MacKenzie.
MacKenzie made his presence felt with one out in the inning when he parlayed a probable single into a hard-earned double off of a hard ground ball that snuck through the left side of the infield. Moments later, MacKenzie’s aggressive spirit paid dividends again when his attempted steal of third forced an errant throw from Cimillo that allowed MacKenzie to come all the way home. Fordham’s lead grew to 2-0 on the unearned run.
Teddy Sabato’s start on the mound for Manhattan came to a close after he finished up the third inning. Over his three innings of work, the sophomore transfer surrendered three hits and two runs, the second of which was unearned, to take the loss for Manhattan.
Manhattan’s offensive shortcomings carried over into the top of the fourth inning when they again left two runners stranded. After Padre got plunked to lead off the inning, sophomore Santiago Riera drew a walk that provided freshman Jonathan Barditch with an opportunity to capitalize on Fordham’s command issues. Barditch’s at-bat would end in a pop fly to second base that left Padre and Riera stationed at first and second, respectively. After a passed ball moved both runners up a base, an Abreu ground ball to third ended the frame and prolonged Fordham’s shutout bid. Through four innings, Manhattan’s offense failed to cash in on any of their seven base runners.
“They did a good job of keeping our hitters off-balance,” said Manhattan head coach Mike Cole on his team’s lack of offensive success. “They did a good job of mixing pitches and attacking the strike zone.”
Meanwhile, Fordham’s offensive attack would continue to give Manhattan headaches.
The bottom of the fourth inning proved to be Fordham’s most prosperous frame. Following a one-out walk by freshman Jake Guercio, Semo struck again with a double that advanced Guercio to third. Manhattan would concede another walk before being subject to the biggest blow of the afternoon when junior Alvin Melendez unleashed a grand slam off of a full count offering from Manhattan pitcher Anthony Fanelli to push the Fordham lead to 7-0.
Looking to fight their way back, the Jaspers loaded up the bases in the sixth but were unable to capitalize as they hit into a 4-6-3 inning-ending double play. The Rams added to their lead in the bottom of the inning when Melendez doubled to right field, advanced to third on a wild pitch, and scored on 5-3 fielder’s choice ground ball to push the lead to 8-0.
An inning later, the Rams put the finish touchings on their win when sophomore Nick Labella hit a high fly ball that was misjudged by Manhattan’s left fielder and thus gave Labella enough time to execute an inside-the-park home run. Manhattan’s gaffe upped Fordham’s lead to 9-0, which remained unchanged the rest of the way.
Manhattan used five pitchers in this one to combat Fordham’s offense. Fanelli came on in relief of Sabato to start the fourth inning and relinquished five earned runs on four hits, including the grand slam off the bat of Melendez. Freshman Jeff Long supplanted Fanelli and pitched the fifth and sixth in which he allowed one earned run on two hits while striking out two batters. Senior Jacob Knight yielded one earned run while collecting two strikeouts in his seventh inning appearance and junior Joe Chionchio delivered a scoreless eighth with two strikeouts to his name. Cole was pleased with the way his team’s pitching improved as the game wore on.
‘It was good to see Joe, Jeffoand Jacob have strong outings,” said Cole. “All three were able to command pitches for strikes and will be counted on as the season progresses.”
The Jaspers recorded a meager six hits on the day in what was an afternoon to forget for Mike Cole’s hitters. Sophomore Matt Padre accounted for two of those six hits and finished the day 2-for-3 from the plate.
Cole is remaining patient with all the growing pains that come with coaching a young team.
“Offensively we are very young starting five or six freshmen so we are going to have some bumps in the road,” said Cole. “The biggest thing we need to do is simplify our approach at the plate and not try to do too much.”
The Rams used a string of eight pitchers to secure the shutout victory. Melendez set the tone for his team in registering three strikeouts in two scoreless innings of work to earn the win. Seven different Fordham pitchers each completed one inning of work following Melendez’s departure from the mound in helping the Rams preserve the shutout.
Melendez showcased his versatility in this one by also making his presence felt at the plate in addition to his strong start on the mound. Melendez went 2-for-3 from the plate with a home run, two runs scored, and four RBIs.
Any feelings of regret that Manhattan may have about their early season hardships should be alleviated knowing that none of their losses to date have any implications on their status in the MAAC standings. Manhattan’s MAAC schedule doesn’t start until March 30th when the team opens up a three-game set at Canisius.