After starting the season with a 3-4 record, the Slippery Rock baseball team caught fire during a six-game trip to North Carolina this past week during spring break.
The Rock went 5-1 on the trip, defeating Franklin Pierce University and sweeping Dominican College in a four-game set while losing to St. Thomas Aquina College.
Rock head coach Jeff Messer thought that the trip was a definite success.
“I think overall it was a good trip. I think we played better baseball. It was still only our third weekend but we got solid defense and some key hitting. We were 5-1, but with all those one-run games it could just as easily have been the other way around,” Messer said. “The difference is, last year, those are the games we were losing.”
The Green and White started the trip on Sat., March 11, with a doubleheader against Franklin Pierce and St. Thomas Aquinas.
Junior pitcher Alex Pantuso got the start against Franklin Pierce, pitching 6.1 innings, giving up four runs and striking out seven. The Rock lead 3-2 through five innings before an RBI single by junior outfielder Luca Fuscardo and a three-run home run by junior catcher Tyler Walters put SRU up 7-2. Junior Shawn Holman and senior Josh Coleman came out of The Rock bullpen to halt a late rally by the Ravens to give Slippery Rock a 7-6 victory. Coleman picked up his first save of the season.
In the night-cap, St. Thomas Aquinas got an early lead and never looked back, beating The Rock 5-2. Senior Preston Falascino started for SRU in this game, going 4.1 innings, giving up all five runs and striking out five.
The following day, Slippery Rock played its first of four games against Dominican. Junior Matt Gordon started the game, going four innings while giving up four runs (three earned). Trailing 1-0 in the fourth inning, The Rock offense came alive, sending 10 men to the plate and scoring five runs. The inning was highlighted by a two-run double by sophomore shortstop Joe Campagna and RBIs from junior Matt Mandes, Fuscardo and Walters. Coleman and Holman pitched 3.2 scoreless innings out of the bullpen and senior pitcher/outfielder Jimmy Divosevic pitched the final 1.1 innings to earn the save and a 6-5 SRU win.
In game two against Dominican, sophomore Chris Anastas made his first start of the season. Anastas lasted 4.1 innings, giving up five runs on four hits. SRU got on the board early with RBIs from Walters and Divosevic, but Dominican came storming back, leading The Rock 6-3 after six full innings. RBIs from Fuscardo, Walters and senior first-baseman Carson Kessler tied the game up a six apiece, but Dominican scored a run in the eighth to take a 7-6 lead into the ninth inning. With one out in the top of the ninth, Kessler doubled to put himself into scoring position before Campagna launched his first home run of the season, giving SRU an 8-7 lead. Divosevic pitched the bottom of the ninth to secure the win for Slippery Rock.
Divosevic said that the biggest difference between hitting and pitching is just the mindset.
“It’s two different mentalities,” Divosevic said. “After focusing on just hitting the ball and playing a positions, it’s nice to go in and control the game a little bit and help out the team as much as you can.”
In its last action of the trip, Slippery Rock completed the four-game sweep with two victories in a doubleheader against Dominican on Tuesday. SRU won game one 13-7, led by a three-hit, four-run, three RBI performance by Fuscardo and three scoreless innings of relief from sophomore Wyatt Daugherty.
Game two was much closer. Down 3-1 in the bottom of the seventh (and final) inning, The Rock scored two runs to tie the game on RBIs from sophomore Frankie Jezioro and junior Mitchell Wood before Divosevic, the team’s captain, roped a walk-off triple completing the four-game sweep.
Fuscardo and Divosevic led The Rock offense on the week, each collecting 10 hits, while Walters led the team with 12 total runs batted in. Campagna totaled seven hits with seven runs scored as he had a good week as well.
Fuscardo, who is in his first year with The Rock after transfering, said he feels like he has been here for years.
“As soon as I came here I just knew it was the right fit,” Fuscardo said. “All the guys are great, I feel like I’ve been here longer than just six months. I’m really excited for the rest of the year and even next year.”
Despite how well the team is playing, there are still a few questions marks heading into conference play, specifically who will start at third base.
At third, Messer has been rotating in Mandes and sophomores Ray Scala and Tyler Merigliano. Messer said that one of them has not yet stepped forward to really claim the starting third base job.
“Every one of those guys has a strength,” Messer said. “(Third base) is still up for grabs and they are all solid. We are not set on that position, that’s probably the only position right now.”
Messer said that for now they will have a platoon where Merigliano will play versus lefty pitchers and either Mandes or Scalal will play versus righties until one of them “wins the position away from the other two.”
The team will now move into conference play, starting with four games against Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference (PSAC) West rival Clarion University this weekend, weather permitting.