SOUTH KINGSTOWN — A week after the University of Rhode Island baseball team dug itself a hole with an 0-3 start to Atlantic 10 conference play, head coach Raphael Cerrato didn’t see nearly enough scratching and clawing to get out.
And the hole got deeper.
Davidson handed the Rams their second consecutive sweep with 12-2, 6-2 and 6-1 victories at Bill Beck Field. URI – picked third in the A-10 preseason poll – is now 0-6 in league play and 6-21 overall.
“We’re bad. We’re not competitive. We’re just mentally not competitive,” Cerrato said. “It’s frustrating. Obviously, we had a tough start in terms of schedule, but guys are just not being competitive. They don’t have confidence, but it’s beyond that. It’s about going up there and being strong mentally. We’re bad. It’s simple – we’re bad. We’re playing really bad.”
Tough sledding in the non-conference portion of the season wasn’t unexpected for the Rams, who trotted out a young lineup against a difficult schedule. A-10 play has been URI’s bread and butter over the years, but the non-conference struggles have carried over this year. The Rams are batting a league-worst .179 in their six conference games and have scored just nine runs. The pitching staff ranks in the middle of the pack in team earned run average, but the lack of offense has made even strong mound performances a moot point.
“It’s a shame because we have really good pitching,” Cerrato said. “That’s what’s frustrating.”
URI’s first two A-10 opponents figure to be among the league’s best. VCU won the 2015 conference championship while Davidson won last year’s title and made a dramatic run to an NCAA Tournament Super Regional.
Rhode Island won the title in between those two but hasn’t looked like a fellow contender this year. After VCU outscored the Rams 10-4 in their three-game set, Davidson racked up a 24-5 margin.
The sweep at the hands of the Wildcats had an extra layer of frustration for the Rams thanks to the proceedings in the first two games. URI carried shutouts into the sixth inning of both games, with Matt Murphy doing the honors in the series opener and Tyler Wilson following it up in the second game. Davidson broke out with nine runs in the sixth inning against Murphy and the bullpen. Wilson had 10 strikeouts when the Wildcats broke a 0-0 tie with three runs in the sixth and went on to another win.
“When a team is struggling, one bad thing happens. [In game two], it was a bad call. The leadoff guy gets on and then they hit three bleeders. When you’re going good, one bad thing happens and it’s like, ‘Who cares?’ When you’re going bad, one bad thing happens and it’s ‘Here we go again,’” Cerrato said. “I’ve had conversations with the guys this weekend about that. Multiple bad things are going to happen in a game every day. If you’re strong mentally, it doesn’t affect you. Right now, something bad happens and you can just see the guys feeling sorry for themselves. Mentally, it’s the ability to focus on what’s right in front of you – whether it’s your approach or the next pitch – and not think about the bad call or whatever.”
The Rams aimed to salvage the third game of the series Sunday morning and saw sophomore pitcher Vitaly Jangols retire the first seven men he faced. But Walker Imwalle broke the spell with a solo home run in the third inning and the Wildcats steadily added to their lead with a run in the fourth, three in the fifth and one on in the seventh.
Davidson pitcher Josh Hudson allowed just an unearned run in 6.2 innings of work. URI left eight runners on base, with even their top hitters struggling. Jordan Powell came up with runners on first and third and one out in the third inning. He promptly grounded into a double play to end the inning.
URI’s lone run came off a Mike Foley RBI single in the seventh.
“We’re hitting under .200 with guys on base,” Cerrato said. “Sometimes it’s just having multiple opportunities just to get guys in from third base. We’d probably have four more wins right now if we had just gotten guys in from third. The power hurts, but it’s way beyond that. We had first and third, Jordan Powell up and he hits a weak ground ball for a double play. That’s a guy who’s hitting .340 for his career.”
The sweep by Davidson leaves URI as the only winless team in the league through two weekends of conference play. A series at Fordham this weekend provides URI’s next shot at redemption.
“It’s just continuing to work at little things, focusing on little things and finding the guys who are going to go out there and compete,” Cerrato said. “You’ve got to be able to compete at an average Division I level.”