Coming off a big weekend in which the Black Knights secured their second straight Lew Bennett Tournament crown, the Rome Free Academy baseball team was looking to continue the momentum against Vernon-Verona-Sherrill on their old stomping grounds at the Stadium baseball diamond on Monday.
The Black Knights were on their way to doing just that when they rallied back from a 2-0 deficit to grab a two-run lead over the Red Devils.
Then in one inning, it all blew up in smoke as the team gave up four errors in the fourth inning and the advantage on a four-run outburst by VVS, while only connecting on just one hit in the inning. It was a frame that the Black Knights couldn’t get themselves emotionally back in it afterwards as they were held to only one hit from then on and fell, 9-4, in a non-league contest.
If anything could go wrong for RFA in the fourth, it certainly did, even after Steven Eychner, who came in relief of starting pitcher Ryan Reilley, got out of runners at second and third base jam with one out. The senior fanned two batters on strikes to keep the game at a 4-3 lead when VVS cut it to that following an RBI single by Josh Webb.
The meltdown all started when VVS senior Matt Sliker hit a liner towards the sliding left fielder Aaron Tennant and the ball bounced right under his glove and to the wall to allow two runners to score for the 5-4 lead as Sliker reached third base on the error. The next batter, Webb, then reached first on a catching error by shortstop Jeff Cooke before advancing to second on a stolen base then to third on a passed ball, as Sliker slid in home to make it 6-4, and finally scored after James Flagler reached on an error from the second baseman Garrett Reilley. Eychner though finally got out of the inning when junior Marc Iseneker popped out to right field on the next at-bat.
RFA head coach Mike Davis summed up the inning in one word: "Disastrous."
For the game, the hosts finished with nine errors. "I’m not going to point any fingers. We just didn’t come out to play emotionally for some reason," said Davis. "I don’t why. We just came off a nice weekend, but we’ve got to find some emotions and a little bit better enthusiasm.
"Physical mistakes, I don’t care about them. I’m looking for more hustle and people that are into the game more and that’s what we didn’t have today," he added.
VVS junior starting pitcher Adam Ross made sure RFA didn’t respond with a rally of its own at the bottom of the inning and just gave up one hit to Tennant, finishing with four innings pitched and giving up five hits to claim the win. Iseneker picked up the save after three innings in relief and allowed no hits.
Ross’ only blunder came in the second inning when he gave up four runs which all started when Dylan Thomas hit a two-run single to tie the game at 2-2. Eychner then followed with a two-out RBI infield single for the go-ahead run and later got picked off at first base but ran between the bases long enough for Thomas to score the fourth run.
"The second inning was a little hiccup but other than that I settled down," said Ross. "I walked a few guys, gave up a dribbler hit. It was just a bad inning and I had to get right over it. My arm felt good, but after I got over that hill I had better stuff after that."
Sliker ended up leading the VVS offense with three hits, two RBIs, and two stolen bases while batting from the No. 2 hole in the lineup, a spot he usually doesn’t play in often. VVS head coach Chad Hodkinson said he has been shuffling the lineup the past few games to see where everybody fits best.
"Ideally, I’d like to have him leading off, but it takes a lot more pressure off of him, and he relaxes a little bit more at the plate with him in the two-hole," he said. "We had Alex (Saville) leading off today, and he is going to start hitting the ball for us, and so is Collin (Laguzza), who was at cleanup."
Laguzza added two hits, including an RBI double to bring in the game’s first run in the first inning, and Bud Bowers had two hits, with an RBI single in the second to make it 2-0.
Eychner took the tough loss after throwing for 4 2-3 innings and giving up three earned runs on four hits.
Hodkinson felt this was one of the Red Devils’ better days at the plate as the team finished with 11 total hits. It was much needed as he felt Monday’s game would be the contest that could make or break their three-game week with having to face New Hartford today and Camden on Thursday at 4:15 p.m.
"We talked about this game kind of being the weed into the week," he said. "We rebounded from our loss against Chittenango but didn’t want to start the week off with a loss and having to bounce back the next day. We got three games and want to go at least 2-1."
Meanwhile, RFA’s record drops to 3-4 overall on the season and they will have to rebound quickly for their first road match of the season at Liverpool on Thursday at 5 p.m.