The Holy Cross Baseball team began their season last weekend with a three-game series at #24 University of Houston. The Cougars took two of three games at Schroeder Park in Houston, Texas, a city which grew in appreciation for the sport this past fall as the Astros captured the 2017 World Series title. Worcester is no stranger to championships either, with the Crusaders coming off a campaign in which they won their first Patriot League trophy in program history and returned to the College World Series for the first time since 1978. Yet, this is a different team, and it will be a challenge for the Crusaders to replace the production of last year’s seniors, especially within the pitching staff. That being said, expectations remain high for the program, with Patriot League coaches projecting Holy Cross to finish third in the conference.
Friday night’s season opener saw the Crusaders (1-2) start their 2018 campaign on the right note, as they defeated Houston (2-1) by a score of 3-2. In Holy Cross’ first at-bat of the season, senior infielder Thomas Russo, a preseason All-Patriot League selection, singled to center field. Two batters later, sophomore infielder Alex Volpi drove in Russo with a two-run home run, the second longball of his collegiate career. In the home half of the first inning, Houston senior infielder Connor Hollis doubled, and junior infielder Joe Davis drove in Hollis with a single a batter later. In the fourth inning, freshman reliever Eric Lopes encountered some trouble while making his collegiate debut. Sophomore utility player Lael Lockhart Jr. of Houston singled to center, stole second base, and then advanced to third on a balk by Lopes. Sophomore infielder Jay Triolo drove in Lockhart with a sacrifice fly to level the score at two runs apiece. Later in the inning, with two Cougars on base and two out, freshman outfielder Drew Minter singled to left, but Holy Cross junior left fielder Alex Gionis threw sophomore outfielder Wendell Champion out at the plate to keep the game tied. In the top of the eighth inning, Holy Cross sophomore shortstop Chris Rinaldi singled to start the inning and advanced to third on a single by Russo. Sophomore outfielder Austin Masel, another preseason All-Patriot League selection and reigning Patriot League Rookie of the Year, grounded out to first but drove in Rinaldi to put the Crusaders up for good. Sophomore relief pitcher Zane Hadeya entered with two out in the seventh inning and earned the win for the Crusaders, throwing 2 ⅓ innings of one-hit ball, including four strikeouts, while senior reliever Joey Pulido was given the loss for Houston.
On Saturday, Houston evened the series with a 7-1 victory over Holy Cross. Junior Pat McGowan started for the Crusaders and pitched four scoreless innings. After four scoreless innings for both clubs, the Cougars staged a two-out rally in fifth with freshman Garrett Keough pitching in relief for Holy Cross. Hollis was hit by a pitch and then stole second to get in scoring position with two out. Lockhart doubled to drive in Hollis. Keough then walked two Cougars to load the bases. Lockhart scored on a wild pitch before Keough struck out Houston sophomore Landon Etzel to end the inning with Houston having built a 2-0 lead. Holy Cross got one run back in the top half of the sixth. Russo walked and Masel singled to get two runners on base. A passed ball moved them both into scoring position with just one out. A wild pitch allowed Russo to score, but not before Volpi struck out. Houston sophomore Tyler Bielamowicz coerced a pop-out from Holy Cross senior Cam O’Neill to end the inning. Just when it seemed like the Crusaders were hanging around, Houston erupted for five runs in the next frame. Keough hit Champion with a pitch to start the inning, who was then driven in by a Minter double. Senior reliever Michael Spada came on for Keough and encountered some bad luck when a passed ball and a throwing error by freshman catcher Zach Buck allowed Minter to score. Hollis sent an RBI double into right center and was later driven in by Lockhart. Holy Cross freshman Kyle Johnson relieved Spada and recorded one out before loading the bases with a hit by pitch and walking the fifth run of the inning home. In the seventh, Holy Cross loaded the bases but Russo left all three runners on base when he struck out to end the inning. That turned out to be the last threat the Crusaders would make, as Houston did not allow a hit in the final two innings. Junior lefty Aaron Fletcher picked up the win for Houston while Keough took the loss for Holy Cross.
Sunday’s rubber game saw the Cougars earn the series win in an extra innings affair. Houston first got on the board in the second inning. Freshman infielder Ron Brown singled to start the inning and later scored on an error by Holy Cross freshman infielder Peter Dudunakis. The Crusaders took the lead in the fourth by way of a two-run home run off the bat of O’Neill, who drove in Russo. After junior starter Declan Cronin allowed the Cougars to load the bases in the fifth, Hadeya entered and struck out Champion to retire the side and escape the jam, continuing his strong series on the mound. Holy Cross retained the one-run lead until Houston senior infielder Cooper Coldiron hit a solo home run to tie the game in the eighth. Freshman reliever Liam Dvorak was given the ball for the Crusaders. After putting down the Cougars in order in the ninth, Holy Cross could not get anything going in the top of the tenth. Etzel singled off Dvorak to start off the bottom half of the tenth and was advanced to second via a sacrifice bunt. Coldiron played the role of hero as he singled through the left side of the infield to send Etzel home and secure a series win for Houston. Dvorak was credited with the loss while senior Kyle Ott picked up the win for Houston. The Crusaders will be disappointed by the way they lost Sunday’s rubber game, but should return to Worcester with the confidence that they can compete with premier programs. They square off for two games apiece against Valparaiso and Oklahoma in Norman, Oklahoma this weekend.
Photo by Tomas Russo