It wasn’t pretty, but it was indicative of the kind of year they’ve had. Dayton got past the wind and six errors in the field to come back and win against A-10 leading Virginia Commonwealth.
Dayton – They say that all’s well that ends well.
Ask Dayton coach Tony Vittorio if you don’t believe that – or designated hitter Connor Echols, or second baseman Nick Ryan, or first baseman Brandon Smith.
Or ask Tyler Jones, who gave up a late Flyer lead on a home run in the seventh inning of Sunday’s game with VCU to tie the score at 3-3; and an inning later saw the first three runners reach and then take the lead on two of the six errors Dayton would commit in the game. Ask all those guys if all’s well that ends well…and see what they say.
And still, the Dayton Flyers won Sunday’s series finale with A-10 leading Virginia Commonwealth (29-18, 16-5), 7-6, in a thrilling finish at sun-splashed Spectrum Stadium.
From the looks of it, stats-wise, it should never have been. Freshman R.J. Wagner got the start on the mound and gave up 9 hits in his six innings of work. But…he was in trouble throughout the game – the leadoff hitter getting aboard in four of his six innings pitched. He walked two, struck out two, and threw 93 pitches. However, after surrendering a single run in the top of the first, and another in the sixth, he left the game with a 3-2 lead…the Flyers having scored single runs in each of the first, third and fifth innings off VCU starter Mike Dailey, and reliever Ben Dum.
He could well thank his defense, sort of.
The defense was, in part, responsible for some extra work and toil, having committed three errors during his six innings. But, it was also responsible for three double plays that helped bail him out of trouble.
It was responsible, through Nick Ryan and shortstop Brantley Johnson’s part, for heads-up play that caught two VCU runners that slid past second base to account for two of the 27 outs necessary to win a ballgame.
On a day when a constant northwest wind made every fly ball an adventure, freshman reliever Tyler Jones must have felt that the end couldn’t come soon enough. For you see he came on in the seventh for Wagner – to protect a 3-2 lead – and immediately fed the gopher, giving up a leadoff home run on the second pitch to VCU first baseman Darian Carpenter.
Still tied in the top of the eighth, Jones came back out and promptly gave up a walk and a base hit. Peter Rozman relieved him and loaded the bases on a sacrifice bunt attempt that rolled dead in the middle of the third base line. Then a ground ball to first baseman Brandon Smith, who picked it up and attempted to throw it home to force the runner from third…but threw it past catcher Bailey Montoya allowing a run to score and the Rams to take the lead, 4-3.
Staring further disaster in the face, Rozman induced a popup to right field that Tate Hagan got to, camped under…and dropped the ball, allowing a second run to score before an out was recorded on a force at second. Two fly balls later the side was retired, but VCU had the lead, 5-3, and their dependable bullpen on the mound to close out the game.
First baseman Brandon Smith, who had struggled at the plate all day, striking out twice, picked on a high pitch and lifted it to right and into that near-gale wind. It barely stayed in the park, striking the top of the wall and Smith cruised into second with a double.
Hagan then grounded out, allowing Smith to go to third with one out and Connor Echols coming to the plate. Reliever Sam Donko, a Youngstown native, threw a wild pitch that allowed Smith to score. But two pitches later he hung something up in Echols’ eyes and he tomahawked it, up and into the wind, toward the wall in right. VCU right fielder Alex Gransback went as high as he could to catch the ball, but he was too short…and Echols circled the bags with his third home run of the season, and the score tied at 5-5.
Robbie Doring then singled and stole second. Pinch-hitter Brian Wood singled to drive Doring in with the go-ahead run…6-5. And then Mitch Coughlin’s second base hit of the day drove in pinch-runner Brad Burkhart with a much-needed insurance run to make the score 7-5.
The wind, mind you was still blowing, and the insurance run paid off because Pete Rozman served up a solo home run to DH Michael Lacey with one out in the ninth. But Gransback struck out for the second out, and Rozman walked catcher Dylan Isquirdo to add to the drama as the wind seemed to pick up even more. But on a pitch to the ensuing hitter that catcher Matt Poland had get away from him, Isquirdo broke for second. Realizing the ball was not far enough away from Poland for him to advance, he stopped, got caught in a rundown, and Nick Ryan tagged him for the game’s final out.
Too good to be true, perhaps, for a team that committed six errors, and somehow stranded 11 VCU runners on base, but I swear to you…that’s how it ended, and in Dayton’s favor.
It WAS a sweet win, a series win over the leading team in the league, and the odds-on favorite to be the top seed in the upcoming tournament. And the events that led to that win had those responsible at almost a loss for words.
Brandon Smith: “The double in the eighth felt amazing, just putting it in play was my goal and it just kept going. I was hoping it would go out, just for morale, but the double worked, we scored four, and got ’em out in the ninth.”
Connor Echols: “Early in the game I got into one and hit it to the warning track in left. But in the eighth I got a pitch away that I lifted just enough to get it up and with the wind to right and it went out. I was so happy…I had to ‘relieve’ myself the whole game and never got it done, and I was so excited running around the bases I almost did it then.”
Peter Rozman: “It was intense, especially with the wind and after the home run in the ninth. I hung a slider, he was a big dude, and he hit it out. After that I had to focus even more on keeping it down. Unfortunately I walked the next hitter, but Matty bailed me out by throwing him out at second.”
And Nick Ryan: “Very strange game. But kudos to our pitchers for getting us so many ground balls when we need them. We got so many double plays today when we needed them most, and that was fantastic to see that. Baseball absolutely gives, and it takes away.”
Tony Vittorio wore a broad smile, as well. He even personally dragged the infield afterwards, just to savor the moment. After so many unforseen bounces had cost him through the first 46 games, fate, for a change, seemed to have smiled on the Flyers.
“I was really proud of our guys,” he said. “It’s been a tough year and yet we didn’t quit today in the wind and after the errors that cost us the lead in the eighth. We had a little talk in the dugout there in the eighth inning about putting our chin up and our chest out. That hasn’t always been the case in the past. There were some crazy errors, they threw up a lot of hits, but the hitting was contagious in the eighth, and credit our defense for all the double plays. We’ve actually caught the ball pretty well this year, and I’ve been proud of Nick Ryan all year long because he and Brantley have been so steady up the middle. Those guys have both fielded .950 as middle-infielders all year, and today their ability to make the double play was a difference in the game…on a rough, rough day to play.”
Dayton won their 16th game with 7 runs on 11 hits and committed 6 errors. They left 8 men on base.
VCU lost it with 6 runs on 14 hits and committed 1 error. They left 11 men on base.
There was a lot of high-fiving; there was a lot of hugging, smiles, and gratitude shown to the 310 people (estimated) that came out to watch. It isn’t often that fate smiles when you get out-hit, you give up a late lead to the league’s top team…and you commit six errors.
But leadership comes in strange ways sometimes. Mitch Coughlin, who’s struggled at the plate this year, had a pair of hits. Connor Echols had a pair, as well, and picked the best time possible for his third homer. Nick Ryan had a hit, and Brantley Johnson had a hit, but they erased at least eight base runners with their ability to turn the double play – potential runs saved.
No one seemed to think about those things in the aftermath of it; wins have come hard this year for the Flyers. Perhaps Sunday, and the weekend can be an omen. Perhaps it’s not too late.
All’s well that ends well!
* Flyer baseball is sponsored, in part, by the generous support of Aldebaran Capital, LLC