Baseball struggles on offense in 1-2 opening weekend

Gad Choi | Contributing Reporter

The Washington University baseball team hoped to open its season with a strong start against Wartburg and Rhodes Colleges. But after coming through in the clutch against Wartburg, the Bears were swept Sunday at Rhodes to fall below .500 after the opening weekend.

Heading into the bottom of the eighth inning Saturday versus Wartburg, the Bears held a 2-0 lead, but with two outs, Wartburg’s DJ Utley hit a two-run home run to tie the game. Determined to respond, juniors Chris Lowery and Zack Kessinger countered with back-to-back singles with two outs in the top of the ninth to give the Red and Green an opportunity to regain the lead. After a Wartburg balk, senior Andrew Dwoskin took advantage of the men in scoring position with a single to left field, bringing both runners home to give Wash. U. a two-run lead. Sophomore pitcher Julian Clarke, who had entered in the eighth before giving up the homer to Utley, preserved the lead to earn the win.

“Our win over Wartburg was a team victory,” senior pitcher Stephen Bonser said. “Guys made plays all over the field, from clutch hits to great plays in the field, and we all contributed to it.”

Key among those contributors was Bonser himself. Looking to add another season of dominance to what has already been an impressive career at Wash. U., the team’s ace was given the privilege of taking the mound for the Bears on opening day. He struck out seven and allowed only one run in 7 2/3 innings pitched.

“It’s an absolute honor and privilege to get the ball on opening day,” Bonser said. “It’s a thrill I can’t describe, and I’m happy I could go out there and compete for my teammates. Coach Duncan gave me the opportunity to shine; I wasn’t going to squander it.”

But the momentum from that strong ninth inning didn’t carry over to the Bears’ doubleheader against Rhodes the next day.

“We opened up the season against them last year, and they quite frankly embarrassed us…we’re looking to exorcise those demons and start off on a much higher note,” head coach Steve Duncan said.

Missed opportunities set the tone for both games for the Red and Green. Junior Dom Quaranta hurled seven innings of two-run ball in the first game, which remained scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning, when Rhodes scored first; the Lynx extended their lead to 2-0 with a sacrifice fly in the bottom of the seventh.

The Bears sought to repeat the previous night’s late-inning offensive efforts when leadoff hitter and senior Kyle Billig reached base on a walk to start the eighth. Lowery then followed with a double down the leftfield line to put two runners in scoring position. Kessinger scored Billig on a sacrifice fly, but Lowery was thrown out trying to reach third on the play. The following hitter for the Bears struck out, ending the inning. Wash. U. had one more chance to even the score, but junior Andrew Goldstick grounded out with a runner on second in the ninth inning to end the game.

Game two progressed in similar fashion with the Bears again unable to capitalize on opportunities, stranding a total of nine base runners. The Red and Green ended up losing the second leg of their doubleheader 6-3. The lone bright spot over the course of the two games was Kessinger, who was named the University Athletic Association Tournament’s most valuable player last season and extended his hitting streak to 21 games from the 18 with which he ended last year.

“Kessinger has been a sparkplug on our team since the first day he stepped on to the field. Plain and simple, the kid can hit,” Bonser said. “You can’t measure what he does for a pitcher in terms of comfort—I’m always confident he’s going to help give me the runs I need to win the game for us. I can’t wait to see what he has in store for the rest of the year.”

The Bears return to action Wednesday with a home game against Fontbonne University.

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