Opening Day has come and gone for the Slippery Rock baseball team, and it was a day of battling through adversity to mixed results.
With Jack Critchfield Park still being updated with brand new turf, Slippery Rock (1-1) opened the season Saturday on the road in Dunbar, West Virginia against West Virginia State.
A 7-0 loss to open the season was quickly followed by a 4-0 deficit in the third inning of game two. Six runs later, Slippery Rock ended the day with a 6-5 win to salvage a split in its first doubleheader of the season.
Sophomore ace Tanner Esposito took to the mound in game one, debuting for Slippery Rock. Five singles and a walk later, West Virginia State had built up a 6-0 lead, and the game was basically all but over.
Esposito battled through three more innings, allowing just one more hit in the fourth inning. However, hitting West Virginia State’s Cole Kiddy with a pitch to start the inning, a single later drove him in for WVSU’s seventh and final run of the game.
Esposito took the loss, giving up six hits, seven earned runs, walking two while striking out three in four innings.
Sophomore Ricky Mineo entered the game for Esposito, pitching two scoreless innings.
To compound with Esposito’s rough day on the mound, West Virginia State’s Nick Loftis allowed just one hit in his six innings of work while striking out 10 Rock batters.
Sophomore Jon Kozarian tallied the only extra-base hit for Slippery Rock, a double in the top of the seventh, while junior Abraham Mow and sophomore Alex Robenolt slapped a single apiece.
With the top of Slippery Rock rotation fielding a heavy dosage of transfers, junior Andrew Shivak made his debut for SRU in game two.
Shivak fared slightly — a lot better — than Esposito, allowing just a single hit in each of the first and second innings.
A pair of walks and a pair of errors from Kozarian and Mow helped contribute to West Virginia State’s first run of the game. A flyout and an RBI double from WVSU’s Andrew Massey push their lead to 4-0.
A walk drawn by sophomore Vince Donato to start the fourth inning, followed by a couple of errors, allowed Donato to score the first Slippery Rock run of the season.
Another West Virginia State error a couple of batters later allowed freshman Kolby Bolbash to advance to second and scored sophomore Luke Trueman from third.
An RBI flyout from Mow scored sophomore Alex Robenolt, and Kozarian tied the game with an RBI single in the next at-bat, scoring Bolbash.
Junior JT Wolke entered the game in relief of Shivak in the fourth inning, pitching four innings as the first man out of the bullpen.
Wolke went through a 1-2-3-4 fourth inning and allowed The Rock batters back onto the field quickly after the four-run fourth inning.
A one-run home run from Donato gave Slippery Rock a 5-4 lead in the top of the fifth inning, and an RBI double from Bolbash a few batters later drove in Trueman for his second run of the game.
Wolke went through back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the fifth and sixth, striking out three Yellow Jacket batters.
A couple of walks and a Trueman error loaded the bases in the bottom of the seventh with just one out, giving West Virginia State a good chance of a walk-off victory and series win. A fielder’s choice allowed a WVSU base runner to score, closing the SRU lead to 6-5.
However, Wolke forced the next batter to ground into a game-winning force out, picking up Slippery Rock’s — and his first — win of the season.
Slippery Rock will take on West Virginia State in another doubleheader Sunday afternoon in Dunbar, West Virginia. The first pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m.