The Golden Rams baseball team rebounded nicely from their rough week last week by earning their fifth straight Bill Giles Invitational championship, and then going on to split four games with Kutztown.
On Tuesday, the Golden Rams traveled to Citizen’s Bank Park to play Wilmington University in the championship game of the Invitational. Strong pitching and a power surge from the bottom of the lineup helped lead West Chester to a 5-2 win.
West Chester got a tremendous outing from senior Jordan Lehman, who went five strong innings without allowing a hit, and walked just one Wilmington batter.
The excitement of pitching at Citizen’s Bank Park certainly did not phase the hard throwing righty.
“Getting on the same mound as the Phillies is unexplainable. The emotions I had were hard to keep in and saying feeling like a kid in a candy store isn’t even close. As a pitcher I was in the moment but I wanted to make sure I held my emotions and performed for my team.”
Lehman, who worked quickly in his five innings, attacked hitters early in the count and did not let himself fall behind too often.
“Attacking hitters is something we pride ourselves on at WCU. First pitch strikes are crucial in baseball and I was able to get a lot of those,” Lehman said.
He was able to throw all of his pitches for strikes. Lehman had exceptional command of his whole arsenal as he stymied the Wilmington offense.
“I had both my fastball and slider, and I have a lot of confidence in both,” Lehman said. “My slider was definitely the best it has been all year and with control of my fastball, everything worked well together.”
The WCU bullpen backed Lehman up after he left, allowing just two runs on two hits while striking out four in the final four innings.
Lehman and the rest of the staff also got some help from the bats, as West Chester touched Wilmington for five runs on nine hits.
The Rams jumped to an early lead in the second inning when Matt Baer and Josh Heyne had back to back RBI singles.
In his next at bat in the fourth, Baer wasted no time getting West Chester on the board again. He took a first pitch fastball and belted it over the ten-foot fence in left center field and into the fifth row. It was Baer’s fifth home run of the year, second to Joe Wendle’s nine, and it proved to be the winning run.
Two batters later, West Chester struck again when catcher Reid Pulford crushed a hanging curve ball to almost the exact same spot. The line drive home run landed in the flower bed in straightaway left field and gave the Rams a 5-2 lead.
“It was surreal to hit a home run at Citizen’s Bank Park, I barely knew how to react as I watched the ball go over the fence, and when I was rounding the bases, all I could do was smile like a little kid,” Pulford said.
West Chester would add one more in the sixth when an errant pickoff throw from the catcher sailed into left field and allowed Josh Heyne to coast home with West Chester’s fifth run.
The victory gave the Rams their fifth consecutive Bill Giles Invitational title and their ninth in the 12 years of the tournament’s existence.
Baer finished the day 2-for-4 with a homer and two RBI and Pulford was 2-for-3 with the home run and a walk.
The Rams, however, had little time to reflect on their tournament victory as they picked right back up with conference play on Friday with a doubleheader at home against Kutztown.
The Rams won the first game 5-1 behind Joe Gunkel who went the distance, allowing just the one run on five hits while punching out three.
Once again, the Rams offense was led by the scorching hot Matt Baer, who delivered his second home run in as many days in the first inning, this time a three-run bomb to left.
Baer’s home run was the fifth run in the first inning, as it was preceded by an RBI single from Chris Pula and a sacrifice fly from Justin Lamborne.
West Chester’s five runs in the first were all they needed for the game, as they cruised to defeat Kutztown in game one, winning consecutive games for the first time since April 6.
They were not as fortunate in the second game.
Kutztown bounced back with a tremendous offensive output, and the Rams’ bats fell silent en route to an 8-0 loss.
The Rams managed just two hits, both of them from leadoff hitter Mike Raimo. Fred Breidenbach took the mound for West Chester and could not find a groove as he gave up three runs in the third inning and a grand slam in the fourth.
Matt McCallister pitched the remaining three innings, allowing just one unearned run, but the Rams were unable to mount a comeback. The split was the fourth consecutive doubleheader the Rams did not sweep after sweeping the previous seven before that.
They would make it the fifth consecutive time on Saturday when they split with Kutztown again, this time on the road.
The Rams, after stringing together consecutive wins earlier in the week, found themselves with two consecutive losses when they dropped game one 7-6.
Pula went 2-for-4 with two doubles, a run scored and three RBI, and Jordan Wlodarczyk and Lamborn both added a hit and an RBI apiece. The Rams sixth and final run came from Baer, his sixth RBI in the last four games.
Dave Stieg did not pitch well, allowing six runs on eight hits in five innings, but did not earn a decision since the game was tied at six when he departed.
After failing to score in the top of the seventh, West Chester sent Conor Kerins out for his second inning of relief. Kerins struck out the first batter, but then a walk and single put the winning run on base for KU with one out.
West Chester countered with the side-winding righty Kyle Weary, who gave up a hit, but the runner was thrown out at the plate for out number two.
Kutztown sent up a pinch hitter with two on and two out and he came through with an RBI single, giving Kutztown the 7-6 walk-off win.
Facing a season series loss to a conference foe, the Rams rebounded in the second game and settled for the split.
Lehman toed the rubber for the Golden Rams, and put together yet another strong outing. He threw a complete game, and surrendered just three runs (two earned). He also struck out five and walked just one batter.
The offense backed Lehman up again, as they touched Wilmington for five runs. The Rams scored three runs in the second inning, outing them ahead for good. Matt Baer clubbed his third home run of the week, a two run shot in the second to open scoring. Baer’s power surge moved him up to seven homers for the year and 33 RBI, both second on the team behind Wendle.
Pula also continued his recent tear, doubling home Wendle in the third. In the four games against Kutztown, Pula was 4-for-11 with five RBI.
The Rams also got RBI singles from Lamborn (2-for-3), and Pulford (1-for-1).
The win improved the Rams to 13-7 in the conference and 29-8 overall. They have just four games with Bloomsburg next week before they play their final regular game against University of the Sciences on April 30. Then they are off to Butler, Pa., on May 2 to begin the 2012 PSAC Tournmanet.
Head coach Jad Prachniak is not concerned with the recent play of his team. In fact he is certain they are on the right track.
“The league is very competitive, so we have to play solid in all areas of the game in order to win both ends of a double header,” Prachniak said. “We have not been as conistent lately, but you also have to give credit to the opposition at times, we have played some good teams who have played well. I have been encouraged by the way we are playing this week and hopefully we can build on that
Kenny Ayres is a second-year student majoring in communication studies. He can be reached at KA739433@wcupa.edu.