Baseball rewrites history: first sweep of top-ranked Union

Senior Denis Shanagher steps up to the plate, waiting for the perfect pitch. Shanagher launched a ball past the Union Dutchmen to earn a grand slam last weekend and secure the team’s victory. / Courtesy of Carlisle Stockton

The Vassar men’s baseball squad had a historic weekend, sweeping the Liberty League’s top ranked Union Dutchmen 4-0 for the first time in Vassar baseball history. Prior to this weekend, the Brewers were ranked last in the Liberty League with a record of 0-5. This would soon change, however, thanks to some solid play on both the offensive and defensive ends of the field, which propelled the Brewers over the Dutchmen.

VC started the weekend off on the right foot with a nail-biting 4-3 win on Friday. Union was first to get on the board, but Vassar answered right away. With a left-center drive from sophomore Taylor Smach, Vassar brought in two runs from freshmen Matt Martino and Daniel Bonfiglio.

After a stalemate of three innings, Union scored two more runs to give them a 3-2 advantage. Then in the bottom of the sixth, the Brewers got off to a rocky start, producing a fly out and a strikeout to put the squad in a two-out hole. This did not deter the team, however, as the Brewer’s bats came alive with a single up the middle from Freshman Evan Trausch and a single from Martino. The Brewers then caught a break as an Union error allowed runners to push to second and third base. With two outs and runners on second and third, Bonfiglio produced a huge hit down the left field line that gave the Brewers a 4-3 lead with only one inning left. In the top of the seventh, senior pitcher Adam Erkis, who has been consistent all season, secured the win for Vassar.

The second game on Friday was won with a bigger margin for the Brewers thanks to a huge spurt of runs scored in the fifth. The Brewers started out the game with Freshman Jake Silver on the mound. Union was the first to score, with two runs brought in during the top of the first. The Brewers were able to answer and score on a sac-fly from Trausch that drove in junior Matt Hernandez.

In the fourth, the Brewers found themselves in a tight situation. Union had loaded the bases and there was only one out. Head Coach Matthew Righter made a call to the bullpen and sent in junior John Madsen. Madsen was able to produce a strikeout and force a fly out to get the Brewers out of the inning unscathed. After this, the Brewers hit their stride.

Trausch slammed a shot to left-center, driving in three runs and putting the Brewers up 5-2. The final run of the game would come from a Union error that pushed the lead up to four for the Brewers.

Sophomore Bryan Rubin closed out the final three innings of the game to close out the day for the Brewers, who had two wins huge under their belts and a lot of confidence heading into the second double header of the weekend.

Saturday morning, the squad put up 10 runs to bring home the victory. Throughout the game, Vassar only recorded eight hits, but they made them count. The game was highlighted by a grand slam from senior Denis Shanagher in the fourth inning to help the Brewers pull away with the game.

Vassar got off to a great start, with Hernandez on base off a walk, and junior Bobby Kinne ripping a two-run homer to get the game going. Martino would answer with a shot down the right field line to send in another two runners.

Then with three runs from Union, the Dutchmen decreased their margin to 3-4. However, Shanagher quickly shattered Union’s hopes for a victory. With two walks and a single from Kinne to load the bases, Shanagher stepped up to the plate and blasted his grand slam to pull VC up 8-3.

The Brewers and Dutchmen both scored two more runs to finish out the game with a final score of 10-5. Vassar starter junior Trent Berg secured the win for the Brewers on the mound.

In the final game of the weekend, the Brewers showed no mercy. They put up several runs in the first, third and fifth innings. Trausch and Smach both had another great game, continuing to drive in runs. The Brewers had a 11-0 lead at the top of the sixth, before sophomore Matt Schwartz homered to extend the lead to 12-0. Schwartz had a huge day for the Brewers, going 4-for-6 with a homer, two doubles and three runs.

The Dutchmen had a late rally, but were unable to surpass the Brewers in the waning innings of the game. Vassar picked up the win with an impressive score of 14-8, behind sophomore pitcher Joe Conti who took the first 6 innings of the game and freshman Robert Pinataro who went in for the final two outs to secure the win for Vassar.

Head Coach Matthew Righter is both very proud and excited about the first sweep of Union in program history. In his debut season as head coach, Righter has been focusing on building the team up and getting better with every practice and game. “From the very beginning of this year my main goal has been to continue to improve throughout the season so that we are playing our very best towards the end. I feel like we’re on that path and that we will keep getting better in the next couple of weeks,” Coach Righter commented.

He was also impressed with the way the pitchers led the team to an undefeated weekend. Righter noted, “I was really impressed with the toughness of our pitchers including starting pitchers Adam Erkis and Trent Berg. Their leadership really shined this weekend and they help set the tone for the rest of the guys.”

Supplementing the pitchers’ prowess, Shanagher has been a solid contributor over his four years and he was incredibly influential in securing four wins this weekend against Union. He was proud of the way the team as a whole performed this weekend, especially on the offensive end. “I have to single out the offense, which was top notch all weekend especially on Saturday where we put up double digit runs in both games,” he pointed out.

In terms of being a leader, Shanagher explained, “I just try leading by fulfilling the role that has been cut out for me on this squad. Everyone has a role on this team and if everyone fulfills their role to the best of their ability we could have a really exciting finish to the season.”

Another impactful player this weekend was Smach, who drove in crucial runs in the four-game affair. Smach shared, “I am very proud of the positive energy our team showed after a rough five games to start conference play. A lot of our freshmen stepped up in big spots and weren’t scared to make big plays. Overall I would say that the entire team contributed to our success, but the energy of our bench players throughout the series really carried us through.” Smach especially attributes much of the team’s success to the leadership of the upperclassmen.

With strong cohesion and continued improvement, the Brewers look forward to upsetting more league opponents and landing a spot in conference playoffs. Coach Righter said, “I think we will make an appearance in the playoffs and then at that point anything can happen.”

Thanks to these four huge wins over the weekend, the Brewers propelled themselves from ninth place in the Liberty League up to sixth place. After facing non-conference opponent Mount Saint Mary’s, the Brewers are hoping to continue their winning streak in a set of doubleheaders against Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute on April 22 and 23.

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