Third inning turns into nine-run nightmare for Lions

by Chris Eyer / Beacon Staff • April 14, 2011

Baseball has no time limit.

A rough quarter in basketball or a brutal period in hockey will end mercifully when the clock runs out, giving a team a chance to regroup for the next time period. But in baseball, one bad inning can turn into a seemingly endless nightmare.

The struggling Albertus Magnus College capitalized on this, and swept a doubleheader from Emerson Saturday by scores of 13-2 and 5-3.

The Falcons, who were riding a six-game losing streak coming into the game, scored most of their runs in the first game in the third inning, which Emerson players said seemed to go on forever.

Emerson starter Ben Quick pitched well out of the gate, getting out of a bases-loaded jam in the second. But then the Falcons, led by the bats of Rob Gambardella and Matt Caputo, slugged nine runs in what became a hellish third inning for the Lions.

“They were being aggressive the whole game, and our pitchers left a few balls up in the zone and they took advantage of it,” said Emerson third baseman Nick Vennochi.

Fielding miscues made for further struggles. Andy Brightman was sent in from the bullpen, but failed to stop the bleeding.

By the time a flyout to left field ended the inning, the Falcons had built an 11-1 lead before adding runs in the fourth and fifth innings to raise the total to 13. Gambardella finished with four RBIs and Caputo blasted two solo home runs.

“We’re used to being behind this season. It changes the whole game,” Vennochi said. “The opposing pitchers can start pounding the zone. It’s definitely tough.”

Albertus’ starter Matthew Finkenzeller used the lead to his advantage, recording his second win of the season by holding the Lions to three runs.

Head coach Dave Hanley said that falling behind early can put a wrench in the offensive strategy. With such a large deficit, Hanley said, the team is more reluctant to steal bases and manufacture runs through small ball.

“We’re not a big home run team; we’re more likely to scatter doubles and triples all over the field,” Hanley said. “We rely on stealing bases and sacrifice bunts.”

Emerson wasn’t able to swipe a single bag in either game.

It was a similar story in the second part of the doubleheader. Emerson starter Conor McDonough recorded two quick outs to start off the first inning, but the final out eluded the righty.

Instead, much as the third inning dragged on for Quick, the first inning seemed like it wouldn’t come to a close for McDonough. By the time the Lions ran off the field and into the dugout, Gambardella and his teammates had tacked on four runs.

After early difficulties, McDonough calmed down and only allowed one run for the rest of the game, but that one big inning proved to be all Albertus needed as the Falcons won, 5-3.

The stress of the long innings took its toll on Emerson’s pitchers, Hanley said, something that was noticed the next day when the Lions dropped the first game of a doubleheader vs. the Rivier Raiders, 7-2.

Vennochi said after playing seven games in five days, many of his teammates were depleted.

“Our pitching staff has definitely been taxed,” Vennochi said. “A couple guys have been putting us on their backs and sucking up a lot of innings for us, and kept us in the games.”

Emerson was able to win the second game, 10-6. A tired Quick pitched one inning of relief on a day’s rest to get the win, and Austin Fontanella hurled two innings for the save. Hanley said the second game was a must-win.

“Our backs were against the wall; we needed to win to have a chance at the playoffs,” he said.