RICHMOND, Va. – Sophomore rightfielder Brandon Gonnella lined a two-run single to left field in the top of the ninth inning as the Tigers (6-6, 1-1) came from behind to hand Virginia Commonwealth University (9-6, 1-1) a 3-2 loss in a Colonial Athletic Association game at The Diamond on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers, who snapped VCU’s four-game winning streak, evened their three-game weekend series at one victory each.
After missing out on a number of chances to take the lead, the Tigers went to the ninth inning trailing, 2-1. Facing the Rams’ ace relief pitcher, Blake Hauser, freshman first baseman Brendan Butler opened the ninth inning by drawing a walk on a 3-2 pitch. Sophomore designated hitter Dominic Fratantuono followed by drawing another walk on a 3-2 pitch. With the tying run in scoring position, junior Andrew Parker sacrificed both runners over as Butler reached third base and Fratantuono went to second base.
With the tying and go-ahead runs in scoring position, Gonnella singled through the left side as Butler and Fratantuono scored to give the Tigers a 3-2 lead. Gonnella reached second base on the throw to the plate. He moved to third base when senior centerfielder Ben Winter grounded out to first base. However, Hauser stranded Gonnella on third base by retiring freshman Peter Bowles on a fly ball to left field.
Senior righthander Tyler Austin (below), who came on in relief with two outs in the seventh inning, retired the Rams in order to earn his victory of the season. In 2.1 innings of work, Austin shut out VCU and did not allow a hit. He walked one and struck out two.
VCU took a 1-0 lead in the first inning when sophomore centerfielder Bill Cullen led off with a double against freshman righthander Taylor Clarke. Junior second baseman Jordan Weymouth gave VCU a lead when he lined a single to left field. But, Clarke pitched his way out of the jam by getting sophomore third baseman Joey Cujas to ground into a double play. He closed out the inning by striking out junior first baseman Brent Mikionis.
Junior lefthander Ryan Farrar shut out the Tigers through three innings. In the fourth inning, the Tigers threatened to take a lead. Sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald led off the inning with a double down the left field line. When Butler reached base on a bunt single, the Tigers had runners at first and third with no outs. A walk to Fratantuono loaded the bases with no outs.
When Parker hit a sacrifice fly to left, Fitzpatrick scored the tying run and set off a strange sequence of events. Cujas cut off leftfielder Paul Nice’s throw to home plate. He threw to shortstop Vimael Machin, who was covering third base. That retired Butler who was trying to advance to third. Then, Machin threw to second base where Weymouth tagged out Fratantuono, who was trying to advance.
Although Parker drove in the tying run, the Rams had turned in an inning-ending triple play.
Strangely, it marked the second time in three games that the Tigers hit into a triple play. They also hit into a triple play in an 11-0 win over UMBC on Wednesday.
In the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, the Tigers’ leadoff hitter reached base and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt. However, Farrar stranded the runner on second base every time.
The Rams took a 2-1 lead in the sixth inning. Cullen led off the inning with a single to right. After Weymouth sacrificed him to second base, Cullen advanced to third base on a wild pitch. A single by Cujas drove in Cullen with the go-ahead run. But Clarke pitched out of the jam as Cujas was caught stealing and Mikionis struck out.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Rams made a bid to add to their lead. Rightfielder Taylor Perkins led off with a single and designated hitter Chris Ayers followed with a single to right. Both runners moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Machin. Clarke struck out catcher Kyle Sutherland for the second out before Austin came on to relieve him.
Austin retired Nice on a fly ball to end the inning.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Rams staged another threat. With one out, Weymouth was hit by a pitch and went to second base on a wild pitch. Austin issued an intentional walk to Cujas. With Mikionis at the plate, Weymouth and Cujas pulled off a double steal. However, Austin escaped the inning by getting Mikionis on a pop-up before rightfielder Taylor Buran was retired on a fly ball to center field.
Clarke and Austin teamed up to limit VCU to two runs on nine hits. Clarke pitched the first 6.2 innings and allowed nine hits. He did not issue any walks and struck out seven. The only walk issued by Austin was an intentional walk.
Cullen led the Rams’ offense with two hits and scored both runs. Perkins and Ayers also had two hits.
Farrar held the Tigers to one run on five hits in seven innings of work. He issued two walks and struck out five.
Butler led the Tigers’ offense with two hits. He also drew a walk and scored a run.
Towson and VCU conclude their three-game CAA series on Sunday afternoon at 1:00 p.m. at The Diamond.