As the losses pile up, the baseball team finds itself falling deeper and deeper in the Atlantic Ten Conference Eastern Division standings.
The Owls’ A-10 record fell to 1-8 as Rhode Island came from behind to top the Owls, 11-5, at Ambler Field on Sunday. The Owls have lost 12 of their last 13 games, and their preseason goal of winning the conference becomes more difficult with every defeat.
“We’ve still got five [A-10] series left,” sophomore third baseman Dan Brady said. “We’re going to have to work hard and win a lot of these series. We’ve got the talent on this team to do it.”
Throughout this losing stretch, the Owls (8-20, 1-8) have struggled with consistency. When they hit well, they pitch poorly. When they get quality pitching, their offense struggles.
The Owls received a solid start Sunday from freshman pitcher Tom Dolan and a strong offensive output.
Dolan surrendered three runs in 5 2/3 innings in his first collegiate start. He stranded eight runners on base and pitched out of a two-out, bases-loaded jam in the fifth inning.
Dolan said he was feeling tired in the fifth, but focusing on his mechanics enabled him to get out of the jam.
“Dolan did a great job of mixing up his pitches, mixing up his spots,” Rhode Island coach Frank Leoni said. “He hit both sides of the plate real well, did a nice job of switching speeds. He made it tough for our hitters.”
The offense started hot, scoring five runs in the first five innings. The Owls collected 11 hits, including three from Brady.
“Our offense has been swinging the bat good about the last week and a half,” acting coach John McArdle said. “That’s been a good sign.”
But despite strong hitting and starting pitching, poor relief pitching and execution doomed the Owls. The Owls’ relievers allowed eight runs in the final 4 1/3 innings to allow the Rams to put the game away.
“We’ve got to do a better job of, after we get two outs, shutting the door,” McArdle said. “They scored seven runs with two outs. We can’t do that.”
The Owls took a 3-1 lead in the first on doubles by senior right fielder Pete Colon and Brady. Brady’s solo home run in the fourth made it a 4-1 game.
With the score at 5-2 in the top of the sixth, Rams centerfielder Dave Savard’s two-out double chased Dolan from the game. Two batters later, URI designated hitter Ryan Cunningham hit a two-run single off senior reliever Chris Hamilton to pull the Rams within one.
Things unraveled for the Owls in the seventh inning. With two outs and runners on first and second base, Hamilton gave up an RBI single to outfielder Daryl Holcomb to tie the game, 5-5. With runners on second and third, Hamilton balked in the leading run. A botched pick-off attempt and a throwing error one batter later allowed the Rams to plate two more runs.
The Rams (15-15, 9-3) scored two more runs off Hamilton in the eighth and one off sophomore Chris McCafferty in the ninth. Hamilton was charged with seven runs, five earned.
“The curveball is definitely [Hamilton’s] pitch, and it just didn’t seem like he had his best stuff today,” Leoni said.
Brady has been making solid contact at the plate. He hit two home runs and had four RBI in three games against Rhode Island this weekend. In the past four games he is hitting .429.
“It’s just a matter of getting confidence back up at the plate,” Brady said. “When you’re struggling for a while, it’s tough to have your confidence up. Get a couple hits, you get back in there.”
Senior shortstop Jason Conner has hit safely in nine of the past 10 games. Over that span he is hitting .324 with one home run and seven runs batted in.
In his first six games as an Owl, Drexel transfer Harry Ley is hitting .435 with a home run and two runs batted in.
McArdle said he had not heard of any medical updates concerning coach Skip Wilson.
Wilson injured his left knee, ribs, and spine in a fall at practice March 17. He is out indefinitely.
John Kopp can be reached at email@example.com. Sports editor Benjamin Watanabe contributed to this report.