SOUTH KINGSTOWN — If the best really is yet to come for the University of Rhode Island baseball team, look out.
The Rams finished off a sweep of Richmond with a 6-3 victory Sunday at Bill Beck Field, clinching a third straight Atlantic 10 series win. Now 7-2 and tied for second place in the conference, they believe there’s plenty more left in the tank. The sweep of the Spiders included an improbable comeback Saturday and a win Sunday that came in spite of five errors.
“We’re not playing great. I just told them that. We’re winning games, which is awesome, but we’re not playing great,” head coach Raphael Cerrato said. “We didn’t play a great game today. Besides our pitching, we didn’t play particularly well. Defensively, we were making mistakes. I think there were a lot of at-bats we threw away today. So I don’t think we played great and I told them that – if you’re happy with where we’re at right now, that’s a mistake. If we’re going to have a chance to win the conference, we’ve got to play a lot better.”
Of course, saying that from second place is a welcome change. Last year, URI needed to play better while sitting at 1-8 after three A-10 series. The Rams have returned to form this year, matching the 2017 team’s 7-2 start through nine games. They took two out of three from George Washington and Fordham before the sweep of Richmond.
“We’re putting ourselves in a good position,” Cerrato said. “Like I’ve said, we’re just trying to win series. Win a series against GW, win a series against Fordham and then this. This is a good club.”
URI is 14-14 overall, having settled in after a 2-9 start to the season. The pitching staff has taken significant strides since those days, dropping the team ERA from 7.07 to 4.40.
“Pitching, pitching, pitching,” Cerrato said. “We played some tough teams early. It’s always tough playing Rice, Missouri, on the road traveling. It’s pitching and getting out there and playing baseball. Just game experience and our pitching staff has been throwing really well. That’s the biggest difference.”
A flair for the dramatic has helped, too. URI won its series finale against Fordham with a walk-off hit by Josh Brodeur. In the opener against Richmond Friday, Brodeur struck again, breaking a 1-1 tie in the bottom of the ninth with a walk-off sacrifice fly for a 2-1 win. The heroics followed one of the best starts of the season by a Rhody pitcher, as Ryan Twitchell struck out five and allowed one run in seven innings.
Saturday’s win was even wilder. URI trailed 3-0 with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Walks to Austin White and Kevin Heiss started an unlikely rally. Jackson Coutts followed with a single and Max Mircovich worked an incredible 14-pitch at-bat for a bases-loaded walk. Xavier Vargas singled in another run and Brodeur tied the game on a base hit. URI won in the 10th on an error.
“Just crazy,” Cerrato said. “Down three, two strikes on the batter, nobody on base, two outs, and we win the game. That just does not happen. I give the credit to our guys, just battling and battling.”
It figures to serve the Rams well.
“We’ve played 10 or 12 games that have just been the craziest games – coming back and winning, coming back and losing. We’ve been through basically every situation, which is just good experience for us,” Cerrato said. “We’ve been in so many tight games. I don’t think we get fazed now.”
The Rams didn’t look fazed by a few missteps in Sunday’s game. After taking a 2-0 lead on Coutts’ double in the first inning, they gave up the lead on three unearned runs in the fourth inning. URI took the lead right back in the bottom of the fourth when Brodeur doubled, Greg Cavaliere was hit by a pitch and Austin White hit a chopper up the middle that led to a wild throw and allowed two runs to score. Sonny Ulliana and Cavaliere knocked in runs in the fifth to extend the lead.
Another error and a hit batsman gave Richmond life in the ninth inning. With the tying run at the plate, URI reliever Tyler Brosius retired the next three hitters in order, finishing the job with a pair of strikeouts. That capped a big weekend for Brosius, who earned two wins and a save in the weekend’s three games.
“He’s a kid who came in as an outfielder. He and Austin White might be two of our best defensive outfielders, but he struggled hitting. His sophomore year, he might not have made the team and he’s like, ‘Coach, I can maybe pitch,’” Cerrato said. “He’s done it in the fall and the offseason. He’s been nasty against us. He hadn’t done it in a game, but I think just getting the experience of doing it is different. Now he’s out there with confidence.”
Dom Grillo and Cam LaFleur also pitched well for the Rams, with Grillo allowing just three unearned runs in four innings and LaFleur striking out six in 3.2 scoreless frames. All of it came against a Richmond team that leads the league in home runs.
“They’ve got good hitters,” Cerrato said. “If you make a mistake, they’ve got some big, physical guys. Our pitching was outstanding the whole weekend.”
The Rams are locked with Dayton at 7-2 in the A-10 standings, with only VCU’s 8-1 mark better than theirs. URI will hit the road this weekend for a conference set with Davidson, who is 4-2 in A-10 play.