By CHASE GORSKI
Salisbury (9-5) opened up their Capital Athletic Conference (CAC) title defense campaign strong with a two-game sweep against the St. Mary’s Seahawks (5-8) on Sunday.
Game One: Salisbury 16, St. Mary’s 5
Game one centralized around Salisbury’s stellar pitching and multiple errors committed by St. Mary’s. The Gulls took control early on, scoring four runs in the bottom half of the second and then never looking back.
After SU senior catcher Tom LaBriola began the second inning reaching base on an error by St. Mary’s sophomore shortstop Brandon Snow and SU sophomore first baseman Jack Barry was hit by a pitch, SU junior designated hitter Simon Palenchar loaded the bases with a bunt single.
Gulls’ junior shortstop Scott Ardoin started the scoring with a two-RBI single, followed by a sacrifice bunt by sophomore third baseman Ron Villone which scored Palenchar. The Gulls tacked on one more run in the inning to make the score 4-0.
Salisbury’s offense remained relatively quiet after a two-run third, until the Seahawks defense imploded in the bottom half of the seventh inning allowing the Gulls to score 10 unearned runs while committing four errors in the field. The Gulls took advantage of their opponents’ mistakes simply by putting the ball in play, scoring 12 of their 16 runs with two outs.
The Sea Gulls have shown a different offense recently compared to what fans have come to expect, what has been known to be a high-powered offense that averages over 10 runs per game has shifted its focus to manufacturing runs. One of the big keys of the offense this season is the production from the bottom of their lineup. According to SU head coach Troy Brohawn the bottom of the lineup is an important reason behind the team’s recent wins.
“Ardoin especially. . . he seems to come up in some big situations and produces, the moment doesn’t get too big for him,” Coach Brohawn said. “Colby Dean comes in today and gets a couple doubles as well, it’s been big for us.”
Salisbury dominated the battle on the mound thanks to another great outing by senior starter Jeff Oster, who logged his fifth straight quality start with over six innings pitched while also recording his second straight 10 strikeout game. After the Gulls took the lead early on, Oster’s main goal was to keep momentum on their side.
“Once we got that four run lead, my job is to get us back in as quick as I can,” Oster said. “Just trying to get them back in the dugout.”
Oster accomplished that goal by retiring the first 14 Seahawk batters he faced, taking a perfect game into the fifth inning. It wasn’t until the seventh inning that St. Mary’s broke through Oster onto the scoreboard, after an RBI double by senior designated hitter Colin Thatcher.
Despite giving up a run in the seventh, Oster felt he kept the number of pitches he had thrown low enough to stay in the game. However, a long bottom half of the seventh combined with a 15-run lead gave Coach Brohawn enough of a reason to go to the bullpen to finish the game.
Game Two: Salisbury 2, St. Mary’s 1
Salisbury battled through a much more contested game againstSt. Mary’s in the second half of Sunday’s double-header, which proved to be a battle of pitching and defense.
Salisbury’s junior starting pitcher Brad Keith took the mound to continue the Gulls pitching dominance and did just that. Despite a high pitch count in the first inning, Keith didn’t surrender a hit until the third when Seahawk’s sophomore right fielder Dakota Merritt doubled and later scored on an RBI single by senior shortstop Zach Rowe, making the score 1-0.
Keith did not let the one run get to him, as he continued to make quick work of St. Mary’s offense retiring the side in both the fourth and fifth inning. After five innings of work, only one run given up on two hits while striking out four batters, Keith was happy with how his outing went.
“It was good to get back out there so quickly, Tuesday was a rough game all-around,” Keith said. “It felt good to get back out here, get a pair of wins and get back on the right track heading into CAC play.”
Salisbury’s offense performed when they needed, tying the game at 1-1 in the bottom of the third after an RBI triple by senior second baseman Pete Grasso, and later taking the lead in the fifth on an RBI single by LaBriola.
Grasso, who started the game at second base, later came in to relieve Keith on the mound. Grasso has been a reliable option for Coach Brohawn on the mound both as a starter and a reliever, and Sunday once again he demonstrated why that is, recording a rare four-inning save without a single hit, while also striking out eight Seahawks.
While he is known for both starting and coming out of the bullpen, Grasso does not let the difference throw him off. He tries to keep his approach the same no matter the situation, but there are some aspects of relief pitching he prefers.
“I try not to think about that too much,” Grasso said. “But I’d say coming in relief is a lot more adrenaline, and a lot more fun.”
The Sea Gulls will continue CAC play and look to remain undefeated with a home game Monday against Marymount (Va.) (6-9). Confidence is high after their recent success combined with starting the season 2-0 in conference.
“It’s a great feeling. . . it’s good to get out in front in conference play because if we win our conference, we are automatically in Regionals and that makes our lives a whole lot easier,” game two starter Keith said.
“It’s definitely a good thing to get out in front of it and get two good wins, and we have to come out again tomorrow and get another big win against Marymount.”
Salisbury went 1-1 last season against Marymount, losing the first game away by a score of 14-11 and winning the second game at home 4-1. Needless to say the Gulls will be looking to avenge that first loss from last season on Monday.