RICHMOND, Va. – Junior righthander Kyle Haynes and three relief pitchers teamed up to pitch a seven-hitter, leading Virginia Commonwealth University (9-5, 1-0) to a 6-3 Colonial Athletic Association win over the Tigers (5-6, 0-1) in the CAA opener for both teams at The Diamond on Friday evening.
The Rams, who jumped out to a 5-0 lead after two innings, won their fourth game in a row while snapping the Tigers’ four-game winning streak.
VCU took advantage of an error in the bottom of the first inning to take a 3-0 lead. Sophomore centerfielder Bill Cullen led off the first by reaching base on an error by Tiger shortstop Hunter Bennett. When junior second baseman Jordan Weymouth singled and sophomore third baseman Joey Cujas drew a walk, the Rams had the bases loaded with no outs.
After junior righthander Michael Trionfo struck out junior first baseman Brent Mikionis, senior rightfielder Taylor Perkins stroked an RBI single to right field, giving VCU a 1-0 lead. Sophomore designated hitter Chris Ayers also singled, driving in Weymouth for a 2-0 advantage. A sacrifice fly by freshman shortstop Vimael Machin drove in Cujas for a 3-0 advantage. Trionfo finally escaped the inning when he retired senior catcher Kyle Sutherland on a fly ball to centerfield.
The Rams increased their lead to 5-0 by adding two runs in the second inning. With one out, Cullen reached base on an infield single. When Weymouth bunted for a hit, the Rams had two runners on base. Cujas gave VCU a 5-0 lead when he doubled down the leftfield line. Trionfo retired the next two hitters to strand Cujas on second base.
After being shut out on one hit through three innings, the Tigers broke through in the fourth inning. With one out, junior catcher Andrew Parker singled to left. Senior centerfielder Ben Winter grounded into a force play before freshman first baseman Brent Butler drew a walk. Freshman leftfielder Peter Bowles lined a single to left, driving in Winter to make it a 5-1 lead. Haynes pitched out of the jam when he retired junior third baseman Zach Fisher on a ground ball to second base.
The Rams loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning but Trionfo got Sutherland to ground into an inning-ending double play.
In the seventh inning, Fisher led off with a triple to left center field. An infield single by Bennett drove in Fisher to cut the deficit to 5-2. A single by sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald enabled Bennett to reach third base. Sophomore Brandon Gonnella’s sacrifice fly scored Bennett to make it 5-3 before Parker walked. Sophomore Dominic Fratantuono hit into a force play. With the tying runs on base, junior lefthander Brennan Huelse relieved Haynes and struck out Winter.
The Rams extended their lead to 6-3 in the bottom of the seventh against freshman righthander Nick Cioffi. Cujas led off with a single and came around to score on a two-out single by Machin.
Facing junior relief ace Blake Hauser in the ninth inning, the Tigers staged a two-out rally. Gonnella reached base when he was hit by a pitch. Fratantuono struck out but reached base when strike three went to the backstop for a wild pitch. With two runners on base and two outs, Hauser nailed down the victory by striking out Parker.
Haynes earned his second victory of the season for the Rams by pitching 6.2 innings. He allowed three runs on seven hits with three walks and four strikeouts. The VCU bullpen finished up by throwing 2.1 hitless innings. Hauser earned his sixth save by striking out three in the ninth inning.
Trionfo came back strong from his shaky start and pitched six solid innings, allowing three earned runs on eight hits. He walked two and struck out four. Cioffi gave up one run on two hits in one inning before senior righthander Tyler Austin threw one scoreless inning of relief.
The Rams outhit the Tigers by a 10-7 margin. Cujas led VCU with two hits and two RBI’s. Fisher led the Tigers with two hits, including a triple.
Towson and VCU play the second game of their three-game CAA weekend series on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. at The Diamond.