The Varsity Blues men’s baseball team opened the first game of a doubleheader against the Brock University Badgers Saturday afternoon with a disappointing 8-3 loss, followed by a crushing 13–1 defeat afterwards
The game started on a high note, when the Blues opened with a 1–0 lead in the bottom of the first and extended it to 2–0 in the bottom of the third while only giving up two hits in those three innings.
But everything started to fall apart in the top of the fourth, during which the Badgers scored three runs to take the lead. Two of the runs came after Blues pitcher Ryan Donnelly gave up a hit to Brock first baseman Cameron Graham and then walked third baseman Craig Vannus. A Toronto error led to both players stealing bases and a double then gave Brock the 3–2 lead.
The Blues offense was unable to overcome the deficit, and went the next three innings without scoring a single run or getting a hit. Toronto struck out five times to Brock’s right-handed pitcher Justin Ayles during that period, topping the number of strikeouts (three) that Toronto pitcher Ryan Donnelly would rack up in 7 and 1/3 innings of play, before being replaced for the final two outs of the game.
“Today our offense wasn’t performing the way it is capable of performing,” said Blues outfielder Jonathan Isaac. “We weren’t making the necessary adjustments or executing in situations that we needed to. It put a lot of pressure on our pitchers and defense to keep us in the game.”
In the top of the seventh the Badgers sealed the deal and built up a six run lead that would prove too much for the Blues to overcome in their final inning of the game.
Perhaps what was most concerning about the Blues’ defensive effort was the amount of stolen bases allowed. All three players who scored during the fourth inning had stolen bases earlier in the game, and one run in the seventh resulted from a player who had earlier stolen third base.
“We have to hit better. We have to play better defensive baseball,” said head coach Jim Sheppard after the game. “Pitching was good today. We didn’t play defense and that’s what cost us the game.”
The pitching was good, despite what the high score might indicate. The Blues’ pitchers allowed a combined four walks all game, and despite all the hits off of the Toronto pitching staff, many were flyballs that were simply not caught by the Blues’ outfielders, or ground balls that weren’t thrown to base on time.
Nevertheless, bad defense and hitting weren’t the only thing to blame for the loss. The Brock Badgers are currently first in the OUA, and sent Ayles, a pitcher who has an Earned Run Average of just 2.7, to the mound against Toronto. Indeed, Ayles would deliver in this game, striking out seven, and, at one point, striking out three batters in a row.
The Blues, coming into the game with a 3–5 record, are struggling to stay afloat in the OUA against other talented squads.
“These guys are coming in on a high. They’re coming in 8–1, so they know how to win. And we’re struggling” said Sheppard.
Despite the disappointing loss, Blues players and coaches are hoping to continue to improve and move towards playing like last year’s team, which went 12–9 and took home the OUA championship over the Western Mustangs.
“We’ve added a lot of new players. We’re still kind of bonding, you know, meshing,” admitted Sheppard. “So, we’ll soon see what our strengths are. I think depth wise we’re a better team than last year, but I don’t think our pitching is as strong as it was last year.”
“The biggest improvement from last year is another year of experience” added Isaac. “We have our starting lineup back plus a bunch of newcomers who really know how to play the game. We all know what it takes to compete in this league. Being defending champs there is always a target on our back — every team is gunning for us.
“We need to play like every game is a playoff game.”