April 9, 2004
LOUDONVILLE, N.Y.- Andrew MacNevin singled through the right side of the Siena infield driving home the tying and eventual winning runs to cap off a two-out four-run rally in the top of the eighth inning of the first game, propelling Niagara to a come-from-behind 6-4 win. The Purple Eagles struck for a pair of runs in each of their first two at bats in the backend of the doubleheader and held off several late Siena rallies to earn the sweep with a 4-1 win in game two.
Siena (10-15/2-4 MAAC) jumped out to a 1-0 lead in their first at bat of the day, as Shawn Hampton doubled off Niagara starter James Avery down the left field line to chase home Bill Lazio with the day's first run. The first game featured perhaps the two premier pitchers in the MAAC, as Avery squared off against Siena's Ryan Bitter-the preseason conference Pitcher of the Year. Neither starter would figure in the decision.
Niagara (10-14/5-1) got on the board with an unearned run in the third inning as Tim Fitzgerald drove home Morgan Dubois with one of his four hits in the opener-a sharp double that landed just past the third base bag.
The Saints responded with a three-run fourth inning as Hampton executed a well-timed hit-and-run with no outs and moved into scoring position as Fitzgerald tried to gun down Tony Cipolla at third base. Following a Scott King sacrifice fly, Blake Hanan delivered one of his four hits in the game, singling home Hampton with a line drive to right field. Hanan came around to score on a two-out fielding error by MacNevin with the bases loaded.
The 4-1 lead appeared as if it might hold up, as Bitter settled into a rhythm in the middle innings and had allowed just the single unearned tally entering the eighth inning.
The decisive rally started innocently enough, as Bitter struck out Debois before allowing consecutive singles to leadoff man Vince Ircandia and Fitzgerald. After hitting Reed Eastley with the first pitch of his at bat, Bitter got designated hitter Mike Alati to fly to left field for the second out of the inning, leaving the bases loaded. First baseman Paul Solini then stepped to the plate for what would be a tide-turning at bat. Solino lined a 1-0 pitch to right field and the ball bounced off the heel of a hard-charging Scott King's glove as he dove, attempting to end the threat. Two runs scored, setting the stage for MacNevin's redemptive heroics.
The Purple Eagles added a much-needed insurance run in the top of the ninth inning on a two-out single to center by Eastley, and Tony Cipolla's bid to tie the game with two outs in the ninth fell just shy as Fitzgerald reeled in the game's final out at the warning track in left.
Niagara rode the momentum of the comeback into the second game, striking for two runs off starter Ken Grant in the first. Alati singled home Eastley who had reached with a one-out double and Fitzgerald who reached on a fielding error. They added an additional two runs in the second on a Fitzgerald double to left centerfield.
Grant then settled down, and allowed just one hit and no runs the next four innings, giving the Saints a chance to claw back. They appeared on their way in the fourth, as Hampton was hit by a pitch, and King followed with a one-out infield single. In a critical, and controversial sequence, Hanan then worked a 3-1 count, and began his swing at an off-target offering by starter Josh Swatsky. The pitch was high, and Hanan began his trot for first, but the home plate umpire ruled he had offered. Hampton, caught in the indecision of the delayed call was picked off second base, quelling the rally. Although Hanan ultimately walked, and Eric Hildenbrand followed with a bases on balls, John Wilkes flied to centerfield to end the threat with two outs.
Lazio singled home a run in the ensuing fifth inning as the Saints finally broke through, but third baseman Greg Lehman made a diving stop with two outs on a Shawn Hampton ground ball and alertly touched third to end that rally. Siena mustered one final threat with their final at bat in the seventh. With two outs, pinch hitter Steve Ballas singled to left field and Tony Cipolla reached on Eastley's second error of the game. Shawn Hampton followed with an infield single bringing King to the plate as the potential winning run. King hit a one-hopper down the first base line that ricocheted off the bag and was barehanded by Solini who raced to first with the game's final out.
Swatzky went six innings striking out three in earning his second win of the season. Matt Fuller earned the precarious save with a scoreless seventh-his third of the season.
The two teams will close out the three-game set with a single game at noon tomorrow.