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Senior Frank Clara hit his first career home run against Manhattanville.
It was another weekend of ups and downs for the Blue Jays at Babb Field. Playing two games in two days, the Jays took on the Manhattanville College Valiants on Saturday and the Stevens Institute of Technology Ducks on Sunday.
The team started off the weekend strong, emerging victorious against the Valiants in a pitcher’s duel. The Blue Jays’ starting pitcher, junior Sean McCracken, and Manhattanville’s Anthony LoFaro kept their opponents’ bats quiet for the larger portion of the game. McCracken was lights out, pitching six scoreless innings and striking out four batters along the way.
“I really focused on keeping the ball low and staying ahead of hitters, and it allowed me to get a lot of weak ground balls. I also was able to throw my slider and curve for strikes, so the hitters couldn’t sit on the fastball,” McCracken said.
LoFaro was nearly as effective as McCracken, striking out four batters over five innings. However, he had one slipup that made the difference in what ended up being a one-run game.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Jays’ senior first baseman Frank Clara capitalized on a pitch and drilled it over the right centerfield fence. Clara’s solo shot was his first career home run and put the Blue Jays up 1-0.
Clara also scored another run in the bottom of the seventh inning. After being hit by a pitch and advancing to second on junior outfielder Tim Kutcher’s walk, the first baseman came around to score on an RBI single from senior third baseman Mike Smith.
However, Manhattanville did not give in. The Valiants scored their lone run in the top of the eighth, on a solo home run by centerfielder Luke Scoggins. In the ninth, the Valiants got the tying run to third base with just one out. However, the Jays’ junior pitcher Josh Hejka struck out the final two hitters of the game, and the Blue Jays eked out a narrow 2-1 victory.
After the game, Clara talked about his performance and the team’s laborious efforts to manufacture runs, which have been hard to come by, especially in this March’s frigid weather.
“In the beginning of the season, especially with the cold weather, we know that it’s going to be a low-scoring battle. Because of that, we need to make every at bat count,” Clara said. “A few hits strung together can win a game. When we face good pitching, this becomes even more important. We have an incredible lineup, and it’s hard for any opponent to get through 27 outs unscathed.”
Clara’s valuable offensive production carried over to the team’s second contest of the weekend against Stevens.
“For me, I’m going up there, trying to stay loose and not tighten up from the cold and putting my best swing on the ball,” Clara said.
Clara went 2-5, recorded an RBI and scored a run in his second game of the weekend. Kutcher and sophomore shortstop Dillon Bowman also had productive days at the plate for the Jays.
Kutcher went 3-5 with a walk and an RBI, while Bowman went 3-4. Senior starting pitcher Nick Burns had a solid outing, surrendering only two runs (one earned) and striking out three batters over five innings.
However, Hopkins could not keep up with the Ducks. Despite the fact that the Ducks’ starting pitcher Charlie Ruegger surrendered four runs over seven innings, it could have been much worse for Ruegger, who surrendered 14 hits, two walks and hit three batters during his outing.
The Blue Jays left 16 men on base during the game, including three innings where they left the bases loaded. In two of those innings, Hopkins had the bases loaded with fewer than two outs and were not able to score. Stevens managed to pitch out of every tight situation, as they never allowed more than one run in any inning.
On the other hand, all of the Ducks’ runs came in the fifth and sixth innings, where they scored two and three runs, respectively. Those runs ended up being enough, as Stevens Tech pulled out a 5-4 victory.
Centerfielder Ambrose Consol was the Ducks’ main contributor at the plate, hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning and also scoring a run during the team’s three-run sixth inning.
“The loss was definitely not what we wanted, but there were a lot of good at bats, and our pitchers were throwing strikes. I am excited to see how we play in warmer weather,” McCracken said.
Despite the loss, the Blue Jays remain confident moving forward. The team has its sights set on next week, as they head south for their annual trip to Fort Myers, Fla.
“As a senior, I’ve seen a lot of great rosters come through Hopkins baseball. We’ve won the Conference twice and advanced to the mid-Atlantic regional all three years of my tenure,” Clara said. “Anything can happen in these early games. With a few one-run losses in our preliminary games, we are going into Florida 4-4, which is not where we want to be, but there is a lot of room for improvement.”
Clara is optimistic that the annual Florida trip will be a great opportunity for the Blue Jays to gain momentum that will carry them through the rest of the season.
“Hopefully the warm weather will jump start our bats, and we can get a win streak going into Conference play. I have the utmost confidence in this team to follow in the footsteps of previous teams of which I have been a part,” Clara said. “Our goal every year is to win the Conference Championship, win our regional and ultimately be the last one standing in Appleton.”
Hopkins is scheduled to play 10 games in Fort Myers from March 15 to 24. They will then return to Baltimore for a matchup on Tuesday, March 27 against the Catholic University Cardinals. The game against Catholic will be their last regular season game before the Jays begin Centennial Conference play.