Honoring former head coach Paul Keyes, VCU and Old Dominion baseball competed in the first-ever Key Dog Strikeout Cancer Classic. The game was held at War Memorial Stadium, home of the amateur Peninsula Pilots of the Coastal Plain League, in Hampton, Va.
Keyes graduated from ODU in 1984. In his four years as a Monarch, he was a standout and four-time letterman on the baseball team. The teams decided to honor a man so close to the bitter rival’s hearts with a charity game where all proceeds were donated to Keyes’ family.
ODU struck first in the second inning. Jordan Negrini reached first on a fielder’s choice and then stole second before Michael Perez’s double down the left field line drove in Negrini.
In the third, VCU jumped out to a one-run lead. Robert Malan was walked to start the inning and was followed by a Bill Cullen single, giving the Rams two base runners. Joey Cujas stepped up and sent a single into center field, allowing Malan and Cullen to round the bases and reach home.
Another run was added to the Rams’ lead in the fourth inning with Landon Prentiss singling to get on base. Jordan Weymouth’s double brought in Prentiss to give VCU a 3-1 lead. By the end of the inning, ODU would respond with a run of its own. Austin McGowan hit into a double play, but reached first base before Negrini’s double into deep center scored him.
VCU would see its lead vanish in the fifth inning. Ben Verlander – the younger brother of current Detroit Tigers pitcher Justin Verlander – reached second after a two-base error. Josh Eldridge singled up the middle, driving the tying run in.
A pair of runs in the seventh inning would give VCU a slight advantage. Vimael Machin reached base after he was hit by a pitch with one out. Up stepped Cujas who sent a home run over the left field wall, giving the Rams a 5-3 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, ODU would try to tie the game and send it into extras. Perez’s double to center field and Tyler Urps was hit by a pitch, giving the Monarchs runners on first and second. Connor Myers grounded out to the pitcher, but the Rams were only able to nab Urps at second.
Verlander singled in the infield, allowing Perez to score and cutting the Rams’ lead to just one. VCU closer Matt Lees forced Eldridge to groundout to second for the final out of the game.
“It was special to pick up the victory in the first-ever Key Dog Classic,” head coach Shawn Stiffler said. “I can’t say enough about the Peninsula Pilots, Old Dominion University and the VCU Athletic department, who all played a part in putting on this fabulous event.”
Lees’ two innings pitched earned him his eighth save of the season, now tied for eighth all-time on the single-season and career (10) saves list. Cujas’ home run was his first of the season and brought his season RBI total to a team-high 31.
“As far as the game goes, we swung the bat well and competed hard all night,” Stiffler said. “Joey Cujas had the big blast in the seventh inning and gave us the lead to hold and we were able to.”
Following the game, VCU and ODU coaches and players shaved their heads, donating the hair to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.
“It’s definitely new. I’m not used to not having hair on my head,” Malan said. “But it’s for a good cause and I’m proud to do it.”
With the win, VCU moves to 4-0 at neutral fields this season. The Rams finish off a seven-game road trip this weekend with a visit to Philadelphia, Pa. for a series against the La Salle Explorers.