This week represented the final tune-up for Fordham Baseball before it defends its 2019 Atlantic 10 title in conference play next weekend. The Rams took on Seton Hall University in a three-game series split between Houlihan Park in the Bronx and Sheppard Stadium in South Orange, N.J.
Despite a strong start to the season that saw Fordham win 11 of its first 15 games, the Rams hit some speed bumps in this series.
Seton Hall took two out of three games from Fordham this week, as the Pirates scored 15 runs over the first two games of the series, winning both.
Fordham junior right-hander Gabe Karslo started the first game of the series on Wednesday in the Bronx. In an entertaining pitcher’s duel with Seton Hall lefty Tyler Burnham, both teams were left scoreless through the first four innings. In the fifth, Seton Hall finally broke through, and after multiple opportunities in the early innings, left fielder Devin Hack drove in two runs with a single to put the Pirates on the board first. Burnham blanked the Rams through six innings, allowing just two hits in his outing. Both hits belonged to Fordham senior outfielder Alvin Melendez.
After Seton Hall went to its bullpen, Melendez continued his excellent day. He got a hanging 2-0 pitch from Brennan O’Neill and hammered it over the left field fence for a solo home run to cut the lead in half. But Fordham gave that run right back in the eighth. With runners at second and third, second baseman Alex Clyde dropped down a squeeze bunt. First baseman Matt Toke scored easily from third, and after Clyde was thrown out at first, center fielder Tyler Shedler-McAvoy — the Big East’s preseason Co-Player of the Year — never stopped running around third, and beat the relay throw to home plate to make it a 4-1 ballgame.
That extra run off Shedler-McAvoy’s aggressive baserunning ended up being pivotal for Seton Hall. In the bottom of the ninth, the Pirates turned to left-hander Joe Cinnella to finish the game. He only got one out. Junior Jake Guercio rapped a double to deep left field and junior Jason Coules singled through the left side. After Cinnella struck out Melendez, head coach Rob Sheppard turned to Sean Miller, who immediately issued a walk to senior third baseman Nick Labella. The next batter, sophomore second baseman Zach Selinger, hammered a line drive down the left field line. Guercio and Coules scored easily, and Labella was several steps around third before getting the hold sign. He was nearly picked off in his attempt to get back to the base. Nonetheless, Selinger — who was pinch-run for by freshman Joe Bladel — put Fordham in a position to win the game. The next batter, senior first baseman Casey Brown, intentionally walked. That set up Andy Semo for the biggest at-bat of the day.
Miller got ahead in the count 1-2, and forced Semo to hit a chopper to short. Seton Hall shortstop Steve Grober flipped to Clyde for the first out at second, and Clyde threw to first to complete the double play and earn Seton Hall the victory. Fordham’s comeback attempt was thwarted.
Game two of the series wouldn’t be nearly as climactic.
On Thursday, Seton Hall started the game by plating two runs off Fordham junior left-hander Garrett Crowley. Fordham answered in the third on an RBI single by Selinger, but Seton Hall answered back quickly. In the bottom half of the inning, with freshman Brooks Ey now in to pitch, Grober hit a sacrifice fly to make it 3-1. In the fifth, Shedler-McAvoy crushed a home run to left field, and in the sixth, designated hitter Zack Sylvester’s RBI single put the Pirates up 5-1. Ey pitched five innings in relief of Crowley, allowing three earned runs and walking three batters.
In the seventh, Fordham attempted to mount a comeback. Guercio hit an RBI single off Seton Hall reliever Nick Payero to make it 5-2, and shortly thereafter, Melendez hit his second home run in as many days to bring Fordham within a run. The 7th-inning home run was Melendez’s 150th career hit in a Fordham uniform, and it helped get Fordham back in the game.
In the bottom half of the inning, however, Seton Hall blew the doors back open on the game.
Sophomore pitcher Alex Henderson came on to pitch the seventh, and the Pirates’ bats attacked him right away. Toke grounded out to start the inning, but Matthew Gale and Hack found themselves at third and second base, respectively, after Gale doubled, Hack walked and both men executed a double steal. Grober was intentionally walked to load the bases with one out. The next batter, Clyde, came up with the biggest hit of the game, slamming a double into left-center field to drive in all three runs and put Seton Hall up 8-4. Two batters later, catcher Jerry Huntzinger singled to drive in another run. Later in the inning, Shedler-McAvoy drove in two more with a double. All told, Henderson allowed six runs in just 0.1 innings in a difficult, ERA-inflating performance that left Fordham down seven and out of contention.
Fordham ultimately fell 11-4 on Thursday, and entering the final game of the series on Saturday, the Rams turned to senior ace Matt Mikulski to provide stability and give Fordham a chance at salvaging something from the series. Mikulski did that, and then some.
Mikulski was his usual, dominant self on Saturday, not so much as allowing a Seton Hall baserunner until the fourth inning. No, it wasn’t the perfect game that softball standout Devon Miller tossed just minutes before — but Mikulski was pretty close to perfect throughout his outing. The trouble for Fordham is that he was matched nearly step-for-step by Seton Hall’s David Festa, who was perfect through his first six innings. The result was a tremendous back-and-forth battle between two pitchers who didn’t give up an inch.
In the seventh inning, Fordham’s bats finally broke through. With two outs and Melendez at first, Selinger hit a double to deep center field, scoring Melendez and giving Fordham its first run of the game. It was all Mikulski needed.
The star left-hander mowed down the Pirates in order over the next two innings, but in the ninth, he encountered trouble. Third baseman Jonathan Luders led off the ninth inning with a double, positioning himself in scoring position as the tying run after earning just the second Seton Hall hit of the game. But true to form, Mikulski struck out Huntzinger, induced a ground-ball out from Shedler-McAvoy and forced outfielder Casey Dana to fly out to end the game. The end result was a two-hit, 12-strikeout performance from Mikulski in which he threw 124 pitches to earn his fourth win of the season by a score of 1-0.
Mikulski’s shutout masterpiece drove his season ERA down to just 1.17. He continues to dominate Fordham’s opposition, and will be a force to be reckoned with in conference play. Another outgrowth of Mikulski’s gem? Saturday’s game wrapped up in just an hour and 59 minutes.
Despite dropping two out of three games on the week, there are positives for Fordham to take out of it. One such positive is Melendez’s return, who has fought injuries early in the season and been in and out of the lineup. Melendez went 4-11 in the three games with two home runs. He was named to the Atlantic 10’s all-championship team in 2019, and he’ll try to play a big role in Fordham’s success this season, as well.
This week, Fordham plays one more game against Seton Hall, this Wednesday afternoon at 4 p.m. from Houlihan Park. The Rams’ first conference series of the year follows, a home, four-game set with St. Bonaventure University beginning with a doubleheader on Friday.