The College’s baseball team will take an 11-game win streak into the New Jersey Athletic Conference (NJAC) playoffs after handing losses to William Paterson University, Rutgers University-Newark and Widener University.
“The beginning of the year we started off 6-0 and then we got our first loss. That kind of brought us back to reality,” senior first baseman Blake Bullis said. “Ending the season with an 11-game win streak is a huge thing. Hopefully we carry that on through the playoffs.”
In a week that saw head coach Rick Dell earn his 700th career win, the Lions outscored their opponents by a combined 35-7. The No. 9-ranked Lions finished the regular season with an overall record of 28-8 and 14-4 in the NJAC.
Dell earned his milestone victory in a 9-1 home win over William Paterson on Thursday.
“The milestone was important in that it represents the College and the players and people that you surround yourself with,” Dell said. “I have been smart enough to have good people around me for a while now and that number is a reflection of their hard work.”
Dell is in his 26th season as head coach and boasts a career record of 702-328-10. He is now one of just 10 active Division III coaches to have reached such a mark. The Lions have had 23 seasons of 20-plus wins under Dell, including the last 10 seasons.
The Lions had control of this game throughout, getting 16 hits while only allowing four. Bullis and senior left fielder Jeff Botti led the way offensively. Bullis went 3-for-5 at the plate with three runs scored and an RBI while Botti drove in three runs and went 2-for-4.
In his fifth win of the season, senior pitcher Blake Ortiz allowed no hits until the sixth inning and only one earned run for the game. He also struck out eight of the 28 batters he faced in 7-1/3 innings of work.
Saturday’s doubleheader against Rutgers-Newark resulted in a sweep for the Lions. In the first game, senior pitcher Bob Buskett led the Lions to a 4-1 victory by throwing a complete game. Buskett improved to 5-1 on the season after allowing only one run and striking out seven.
“I like the way we are playing right now and the fact that we have been doing the little things right,” Dell said. “We had that one inning where the starter had about 40 pitches, so his pitch count went from 65 to 105. Now they have to bring in another starter in the fifth inning, which makes it easier on ourselves going into the next game.”
The Lions took full advantage in the second game, exploding for 11 runs in the 11-5 victory. Trailing 3-0 going into the fourth inning, the Lions rallied for three solo home runs to tie the game. Senior catcher Gerard Haran, senior second baseman Andrew Cosgrove and junior outfielder Dave Mebs were the three Lions to score in the inning.
Taking the lead for good in the bottom of the sixth inning, the Lions added four more runs to put the game out of reach. Haran hit another home run in the eighth inning, extending his all-time Lions career record to 47. Junior pitcher Mike Oliver was awarded the win in relief. He allowed one run off seven hits and four strikeouts.
“Baseball is a game where the harder you try, the worse you do. I think everyone was just trying to force it earlier in the season,” Haran said. “After that, we started to let the game come to us. Our pitchers have been throwing better pitches and our hitters started hitting the ball better, started fielding better. We are a pretty dangerous team right now. There is not many teams that want to play us right now.”
The Lions beat Widener in an 11-0 winning effort on Wednesday.
Using a total of nine pitchers, the Prides could not find an answer for the Lions’ bats. Junior shortstop Jeff Toth led the 12-hit Lions performance, going 4-for-5 at the plate with three RBIs and hit his fifth home run of the season.
Freshman pitcher Sean Stewart picked up his first career win on the mound in six innings of work. Stewart struck out the first six batters he faced, ending the day with nine strikeouts.
“Right now, we are only focused on playing well in the NJAC playoffs,” Haran said. “Getting three NJAC Championships in a row would be a nice accomplishment. Every team in the playoffs has a chance to win, but I think we will be there in the end.”
The Lions await their first-round NJAC playoff opponent in a game scheduled for Thursday at 3 p.m.