The IUP Crimson Hawks baseball team opened up their season by winning the Riverside Classic Tournament in Williamston, N.C., last weekend.
At the invitational tournament, each of the four participating teams played three games. The team with the best record at the end of the weekend was named the winner.
IUP and Millersville University were tied atop the standings, each with two wins and one loss, but the Crimson Hawks defeated Millersville 2-0 on Saturday morning, giving them the advantage and the win.
LeMoyne University handed IUP its only loss of the weekend, beating them 5-1 on Sunday morning.
IUP’s remaining games were against Tiffin University. They defeated them 3-1 on Sunday night, clinching first place in the tournament. The two teams faced off again Monday, and IUP won that contest as well. This time the score was 7-4.
The weekend’s games were originally scheduled to begin Friday and end Sunday. Due to rain, the tournament was delayed to Saturday, pushing everything back 24 hours.
The delay affected IUP’s pitching rotation, said manager Jeff Ditch, who planned on giving pitcher Jared Weed (senior, marketing) the start against Millersville, which was IUP’s first game of the season. Instead, he went with Kyle Zaorski (junior, finance).
Zaorski struck out nine, allowing no runs and just one hit in six innings of work.
“It didn’t matter to me which game I pitched,” Zaorski said. “I was just so excited to get my first start of the year and give it my best. Me and my catcher Jon O’Neill had them off balance the whole game.”
Austin Mock (junior, exercise science) and Ryan Uhl (junior, finance) relieved Zaorski, concluding IUP’s first shutout since they defeated Slippery Rock 1-0 on April 20 of last season.
Also picking up his first win of the season was southpaw Kyle Zambianini (senior, pre-physical therapy). He faced Tiffin on Sunday night, pitching six innings while allowing one run on two hits.
Zambianini helped the Hawks bounce back from their only bump in the road against LeMoyne, in which Weed started the game.
Hunter Bigler (sophomore, exercise science) earned the third win Monday morning against Tiffin. He pitched three innings in relief after Zach DeTillio (sophomore, sports medicine) had control issues early on.
“The pitching was a pleasant surprise for me,” Ditch said. “Our pitchers kept us in every game. We never gave up a big inning.”
Since the Crimson Hawks could only practice indoor leading up to the Riverside Classic, Ditch and his team captains Aaron Lupia (senior, health and physical education) and Weed said they had been certain it’d be the bats that brought the team success early on in the season.
However, while the Crimson Hawks averaged 5.7 runs per game in 2013, the weekend saw them score 3.3 runs and allow 2.5 runs per game.
Though the hitting wasn’t up to their last season’s standard, catcher Jonathan O’Neill (junior, criminology) and third baseman Mike Lupia (redshirt junior, health and physical education) were able to supply enough offense to help their team succeed.
Neither junior played a single game for IUP last season. O’Neill just transferred in from this year’s PSAC West favorite Seton Hill University, and Mike Lupia battled an oblique injury all of last season, which eventually led him to take a redshirt year.
O’Neill batted in the No. 2 spot all weekend. He went three for four with three singles against Millersville and two for four with a pair of doubles yesterday against Tiffin.
Mike Lupia was in the six-hole in all four tournament games. In his first college baseball game since 2012, Lupia went three for three with a walk, securing the team’s victory against Millersville.
“We definitely just want to keep building on these wins,” Mike Lupia said. “We’re really confident after this weekend, and I’m really confident it’s going to be a good year.”
After playing four games in 60-degree temperatures, the Crimson Hawks will be back in the cold on Thursday and Friday. They’ll travel to Flemington, N.J., to take on the Wilmington University Wildcats. The two teams will face off in a four-game series that will feature back-to-back double headers.