Rams start A-10 play strong, take two from Charlotte 49ers
As the sun beat down on the artificial turf the University of Rhode Island baseball team took to Bill Beck Field for the first time since the tragic death of their teammate Joey Ciancola on Oct. 27.
After the lineups had been announced and the national anthem had been played the team gathered for a pregame pep talk. Before they broke, a chant of "Joe-Joe! Joe-Joe!" began to echo throughout the field. It grew louder and stronger as the players began to jump and holler before breaking apart and sprinting out to their positions.
Sadly, for the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, it would not be a good weekend.
The Rams smacked Charlotte early on Friday and took two games from the preseason league No.-1. Rhody won 5-2 on Friday and 5-1 Sunday, but dropped Saturday's game 6-3.
"The guys did a good job this week," head coach Jim Foster said. "They competed well, played hard. That's where we want to be: good pitching, speed, defense job."
Facing cold, dark weather and a Charlotte team coming off of an easy victory on Saturday, junior Sean Furney delivered a pitching gem.
Furney, who had not thrown more than two innings all season, shut down the 49ers in eight solid innings, striking out four and throwing 69 of his 100 pitches for strikes. It was Furney's first start as a Ram after transferring from the Community College of Rhode Island.
"It felt good," Furney said. "My two-seamer was working really well today. I got ahead of a lot of guys. [Senior catcher] Milan [Adams] calls a great game with Coach Foster."
Offensively it was all about junior second baseman Pat Fortunato. Fortunato lofted a fastball way beyond the left field wall in the second inning to put the Rams up 2-0 early. A single by Fortunato in the fourth plated Adams.
Defensively the Rams were nearly flawless all weekend. Sans an error during the loss Saturday, the Rams communicated well on the field and kept the ball in front of themselves. A diving catch by senior Greg Annarummo and a 5-3 double play initiated by sophomore Joe Landi highlighted the defensive performances by the Rams.
Freshman Tim Caputo and sophomore Jeff Roy also stood out on the field.
As good as Furney was on Sunday, senior Chris Pickering was just as good on Friday. Pickering threw seven innings, allowing only four hits and striking out two to pick up his second win of the year.
Senior Mike Bradstreet pitched a flawless ninth inning to pick up the save.
"Chris is our leader on the pitching staff," Foster said. "He's pitched a lot of big games for us and for him to set the tone Friday and compete the way he did set the tone for the whole weekend."
The Rams notched seven hits on Friday, but none of them were for extra bases. Charlotte helped Rhody's cause with two key errors and the Rams stole four bases which made life difficult for the 49er pitchers.
In both of the victories the Rams scored five runs, which was also Ciancola's team number. Fortunato reflected on what that meant after the victory on Sunday.
"That is awesome," Fortunato said as he looked at Ciancola's number on the left field wall. "Every game we try to get to seven, but wow. I didn't really think about that five. I mean, maybe he's looking down on us with the wins. That's awesome."
The Rams return to Bill Beck Field this afternoon for a non-conference game against Iona College. First pitch is scheduled for 3:30 p.m.
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