After starting the season on a nine-game winning streak, the VCU baseball team was facing something it wasn’t familiar with as the Rams traveled to Charlotte, N.C. for a weekend series against the 49ers – a potential six-game losing streak.
On Friday in the first game of the series, VCU beat Charlotte 5-2 and claimed their first Atlantic 10 conference victory.
Bill Cullen started the game off with single into left field before he was driven in by Joey Cujas a few batters later, giving the Rams an early one-run lead. In the fourth inning, VCU continued to add runs thanks to a Brett Mikionis double off the left field wall which drove in Cujas and Taylor Buran to extend the Rams’ lead to three.
VCU would have all the runs they needed by the end of the fourth, but in the sixth added two more just for insurance. Charlotte would add a pair of runs by the end of the game, one in the sixth and one in the eighth.
“It is always good to get the first game of series, especially on the road. It was a well-played game and both pitchers threw extremely well,” head coach Shawn Stiffler said. “Brent Mikionis had the big double in the fourth inning to get us going.”
Heath Dwyer (4-3) pitched eight innings, giving up five hits while striking out six and allowing one earned run before Matt Lees closed it out tallying two strikeouts. It was Lees’ seventh save of the season.
“(Dwyer) pitched great and made a lot of big pitches for us,” Stiffler said. “The big thing for him was he was in the zone, throwing 70 percent strikes.”
A doubleheader on Saturday would decide the series winner. In game one, Charlotte edged VCU 9-8.
The 49ers jumped out to a five-run lead after three innings and it looked like a rough day for the Rams. But a huge six-run fifth inning gave VCU a one-run lead.
Hit after hit saw batters scoring with ease before the 49ers finally escaped the inning, but not after giving up their big lead.
VCU added another run in the sixth inning after a Cullen fly out allowed Cody Acker to advance to third. A James Bunn bunt brought in Acker giving the Rams a two-run lead.
Charlotte would storm back and retake the lead in the eighth inning scoring two runs, giving them an 8-7 lead.
In the ninth inning with the bases loaded and two outs, Charlotte’s pitcher hit Acker, bringing in the tying run. Charlotte’s Brett Lang stepped up to the plate in the bottom of the ninth and hit a game-winning walk-off home run into left field that sealed the 49ers’ win.
Shortly after, the second game of the doubleheader and the final game of the series began.
With the series tied at a game apiece, the winner of the third game would take the series. VCU won 4-3 in a close, late-game thriller.
Charlotte again would get out to a quick lead after scoring three runs in the second and third innings before VCU bounced back in the fifth, scoring a pair of runs to cut the lead to one.
After three scoreless innings, VCU entered the ninth inning down one run, needing a pair of runs to win the weekend series. Buran and Jordan Weymouth started off the inning with back-to-back singles. An Acker bunt saw Buran caught at third, but Weymouth advanced safely to second. A Robert Malan pinch hit single drove in Weymouth, then a Cullen sacrifice fly to center brought in Acker to give the Rams a 4-3 advantage.
Charlotte loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth with one out, but Nick Daddio lined out to Weymouth who completed the game-ending double play, giving the Rams their second win of the weekend.
“It’s a great feeling to win a series on the road,” Stiffler said. “This is the best we have played offensively in a couple of weeks; we swung the bat well and competed for our at-bats.”
“The guys played extremely hard all weekend long,” Stiffler said. “We went through a tough stretch there with some injuries, but the effort is there.”
VCU stays on the road as part of their nine-game road trip when they take a trip to Blacksburg, Va. to face Virginia Tech on Tuesday.