Wolff’s Wire: What went wrong for the Quinnipiac baseball team against Niagara

Jordan Wolff, Staff Writer

In 2019, the Quinnipiac baseball team won the MAAC championship for the first time, broke the program record with 30 regular season wins and upset a top-10 team in the NCAA tournament. In 2021, it’s 2-10 to start the season, and it has had a bigger fall in the standings than most anticipated.

The MAAC Council of Presidents announced earlier this week that changes were made to a handful of spring sports, including baseball. Under the new rules, eight of 11 teams will be able to participate instead of all 11. Being the No. 8 seed, each game the Bobcats play becomes that much more important.

This past weekend, Quinnipiac took on Niagara in a four-game series, with the Purple Eagles handing the Bobcats a sweep. So far, the Bobcats have lost each series they have played. One thing that stood out was how tight these games were.

The Quinnipiac baseball team has made 19 errors this season, which is third-most in the MAAC. (Morgan Tencza)

Close Games

In the four games (two doubleheaders), the Bobcats lost by no more than four runs.

In the first game, it didn’t seem as if the Bobcats were going to make it close, as Niagara sophomore outfielder/pitcher Marcus Cashman pitched 5.1 scoreless innings, allowing one hit, two walks and striking out four batters. Additionally, Quinnipiac sophomore pitcher Brandyn Garcia had his worst start of the season. In five innings, the southpaw allowed four runs (two earned), six hits, five walks and struck out six batters.

After head coach John Delaney pulled Garcia, the Niagara offense tacked on four more runs.

In the final inning, the Bobcats showed a little bit of life as singles by junior infielder Kyle Maves and senior utility player Ian Ostberg made it an 8-3 game. However, it wasn’t enough as Niagara closed it out with an 8-4 victory.

The second game was closer, but the Bobcats fell short once again 8-7. They held Niagara scoreless between the seventh and ninth innings while being down 8-5. In the eighth inning, graduate student infielder Dylan Lutz hit a single to make it 8-6, while sophomore catcher Danny Melnick hit a sacrifice fly in the ninth inning to make it 8-7.

But, with runners on first and third, graduate student outfielder Andre Marrero grounded out to end the game.

In the third game, the Bobcats lost 4-3 on a walk-off sacrifice fly by Purple Eagles graduate student outfielder and first baseman Peter Battaglia. In the fourth game, Niagara held the Bobcats scoreless after the fourth inning and won 6-3.

Any sort of loss is bad but for this team, it stings a bit more when you feel you’re on the cusp of winning but can’t execute in big spots.

Offense shows promise, but pitching … not so much

With a 2-10 record, there’s not a lot to be happy about. But while the wins aren’t piling up, the offensive stats rank well in the MAAC.

The offense is third in the MAAC in batting average (.267) and runs batted in (RBIs) (52), while leading the conference in hits (97).

When it comes to MAAC rankings, Lutz ranks second in the conference in hits (16), while Marrero and graduate student utility player Evan Vulgamore are each tied for fourth in the conference in RBIs with 10. Marrero is also second in the MAAC in walks with 12.

It’s great the Bobcats have players who are capable of this production, but it’s hard to sustain that when you’re not getting enough runners in. Also, the Bobcats rank fifth in the MAAC in on-base percentage (.357).

In the four games, the Bobcats left a combined 37 runners on base. While this offense is producing high run totals, it’s moments when Marrero leaves runners on first and third at the end of the game that seemed to bite the Bobcats in this series.

Another part of this is balance. The key to the 2019 team’s success was partnering their explosive offense with pitchers Chris Enns, Tyler Poulin and Christian Nicolosi.

This season, the offense is still showing its capability, but the pitching and defense have struggled mightily.

In terms of pitching, the Bobcats rank eighth out of nine active teams in the MAAC in total ERA (6.32). They’ve also allowed a conference-worst 27 walks. In 89.2 innings pitched, the Bobcats have allowed 96 hits and 77 runs.

The issue is finding depth behind Garcia, while finding pieces to plug into those middle-to-late innings. In terms of the bullpen, one pitcher who seemed primed for the closer role was graduate student left hander Colin Donnelly.

Graduate student infielder Dylan Lutz has the second-most hits in the MAAC with 16. (Morgan Tencza)

It hasn’t worked out quite yet, though. Donnelly has a 10.38 ERA, allowing 14 hits and 10 runs in 8.2 innings pitched. He made one appearance against Niagara, pitching four innings, allowing six hits, four runs and picking up the loss.

The 10.38 ERA is alarming, and it may seem like it’s the worst on the team. However, Donnelly has just the fifth worst ERA so far this season. Junior right-handed pitcher Gabriel Romano has the worst — in 1.2 innings pitched, he has a 32.40 ERA. Romano pitched 0.2 innings in one appearance against Niagara, allowing three runs and three hits.

The starting pitching behind Garcia also struggled in this series, as sophomore pitcher Kevin Seitter got the start in game two. Seitter pitched two innings, allowed just one hit, but four earned runs and four walks.

In game three, sophomore pitcher Jimmy Hagan pitched 6.2 innings, allowed seven hits, four runs (three earned) and four walks, while striking out two batters. Junior pitcher Derek Goldrick got the start in game four, and the right hander pitched four innings, allowed seven hits, two runs, three walks and struck out three batters.

As for the defense, the Bobcats rank toward the bottom of the MAAC with 19 errors. But what really strikes you is the 18 stolen bases allowed on a 94% conversion rate. Quinnipiac’s primary catcher is senior Colton Bender, who was picked in the pre-season as a finalist for the Buster Posey award.

As a team, though, the Bobcats made a combined seven errors this series and have totaled 19 this season.

Short-term memory

While it may be disappointing to see how the Bobcats have played so far this season, it is important to acknowledge that this is an important stretch for this team.

This week, Quinnipiac will play a doubleheader against Fairfield (8-0 overall, 8-0 MAAC) on April 7. The Stags will certainly be out for revenge, as the last time they played, the Bobcats defeated them in extra innings on a walk-off wild pitch in the 2019 MAAC championship.

On April 10 and 11, the Bobcats will play the Siena Saints in a four-game series (3-9 overall, 3-9 MAAC).

Announcers and experts say it all the time that athletes need to have a short-term memory to block out all the negative aspects of the previous games. That especially applies to this team, who is fighting to keep the final spot for the entry into the 2021 MAAC tournament, which starts on May 21.