Bulls Split Doubleheader with Akron in Wild Series Opener
BUFFALO, NY - It was a long day at the ballpark Friday afternoon, with the Buffalo Bulls (9-20, 2-8 MAC) scheduled to play two games against Mid-American Conference east division rival Akron (14-20, 7-4 MAC). While game one cruised to a quick finish and a 3-2 UB win, game two went 16 innings before Akron pulled out the 5-4 win. The Bulls tied game two up in the bottom of the ninth inning to force the record-setting bonus baseball.
The 16 innings are a new modern-era record for the Bulls. The previous high was 14 innings on March 29, 2007 against Marshall.
In game one, the story was all about the pitchers. Senior Cameron Copping shined for his third straight conference start, nearly going the distance. After allowing an unearned run in the fourth inning, Copping held the Zips scoreless until the ninth inning. His counterpart in the other dugout, Andrew Brown, was also on point for the day and kept the Bulls off balance for much of the game.
In the first inning, the Bulls found themselves in a bases-loaded situation with no out in the inning thanks to Matt Pollock being hit by a pitch, Jon Mestas beating out a sacrifice bunt attempts for a surprise single, and a walk drawn by Dan Scahill. Tom Murphy came to bat and hit a swinging bunt that went just up the first base line. The Akron catcher made the force at home, but his attempt to throw Murphy out at first was thwarted by an errant throw that struck Murphy in the shoulder to send the ball ricocheting into the outfield. Mestas would score from second and UB found itself with two runners in scoring position with only one out. In a foreshadowing of the team's luck for the day, the Bulls could not get another run across the plate in the inning.
With the Zips scoring an unearned run of its own in the fourth inning, the offense looked to regain the lead and give Copping a chance at the win. Dan Scahill led off by reaching thanks to an Akron error, and he would come in to score on a Murphy double that went all the way to the outfield wall in center field. Thomas Richards would then provide the pivotal run by driving in Murphy with a double of his own on a line drive that missed the leaping first baseman's glove by mere inches.
Looking to close out the win in the ninth, Copping ran into his first trouble of the day, allowing a one-out double, followed by a walk and a single to bring Akron within one, 3-2. The senior's day would be done and the ball was handed to River McWilliams with two runners on and only one out. The junior struck out the first batter he faced before inducing a harmless grounder to shortstop that ended the game and wrapped up his first career save.
Buffalo's strong day on the mound would extend into game two, with senior Jeff Thompson pitching an effective game and frustrating the Akron offense. Meanwhile, the offense scored two early runs thanks to more miscues from the defense. With two outs in the second inning, Andy Smietana hit a looping liner to right field that dropped in and took a nasty hop to get by the charging right fielder, giving him a triple. After a 3-2 walk drawn by freshman Justin Gonzalez, Jason Kanzler hit a ball to the left of the shortstop, and the Akron player could not handle the ball cleanly, scoring Smietana and leaving both runners safe on the error.
The Bulls found more two-out magic in the next inning, as Murphy hit a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield to set up Alex Baldock, who took a pitch down the left field line for a stand-up double that scored Murphy easily from first.
Thompson used a strong mix of pitches and locations and pitched successfully to contact all afternoon, frustrating the Akron hitters who found themselves making countless outs on the first pitch. Thanks to that, Thompson kept his pitch count low and went deep into the game for his longest outing of the year. He, too, ran into trouble late, giving up a two-out rally in the eighth inning to the visitors. Thompson allowed a double, a walk, and an RBI single to chase him from the game and bring the score to 2-1 in Buffalo's favor with two runners in scoring position.
Anthony Magovney was tasked with getting the final out of the inning, and despite getting ahead in the count, Akron's Joe Havrilak fought off a bloop liner that landed right in front of a charging Matt Pollock. Both runners would score to put Akron up 3-2. The visitors would tack on an important insurance run in the ninth inning on a fielder's choice to extend the lead to two runs.
After a season full of disappointing walk-off losses, it was finally UB's chance to play the hero in the bottom of the ninth. Smietana started the inning strong with a line down the left field line for an easy double. Mike Scarcello entered the game as a pinch hitter and hit a screaming liner that glanced off the third baseman's glove to put him safely on first and move Smietana to third. Kanzler stepped up and hit an equally powerful line drive but he was less fortunate, as it was right back at the pitcher. Scarcello was caught in no-man's land off of first base, but the hurried throw from the pitcher was misplayed, saving Scarcello at first while allowing Smietana to come in from third and make it 4-3 Akron, now with only one out.
A strikeout from Pollock put Buffalo's back against the wall, but a fortuitous balk from Akron's Scott Foster moved Scarcello to second base. That would prove to be crucial, because Mestas would then hit a bouncing grounder back up the middle. Akron's shortstop was in position to make the play, but a late hop on the grounder skipped over his glove, bringing in Scarcello to tie up the ball game.
The Bulls' best chance to get the walk-off win in extra innings would come right away. A triple by Murphy to lead off the tenth inning would be squandered, as Akron intentionally walked the bases loaded and forced two infield grounders and a lazy fly ball to strand three baserunners. In the eleventh, Pollock hit a lead-off single to left and walks to Scahill and Baldock would again loaded up the bases with two outs. Mike Burke could not convert, flying out to center to end the inning.
After stranding six baserunners in the first two extra innings, the Bulls would be unable to threaten again over the next six innings of extra play. After blowing the save in the ninth, Foster remained in the game and pitched the rest of the way, throwing an astounding nine innings of relief. Not to be out done, McWilliams entered his second game in a row as a reliever in the ninth inning and threw seven innings of relief but did allow the eventual game-winning run to reach on a lead-off single in the top of the sixteenth inning. Kevin Crumb was the hard-luck loser for UB, allowing a lazy single that allowed the inherited runner on second base to score.
The two teams will have less than 24 hours to recover from the 25 total innings played, as the series will conclude Saturday at 1 pm at Amherst Audubon Field. Buffalo is aiming to win its first conference series since the 2010 season.