RICHMOND, Va. – For the second time in more than a week, Virginia Commonwealth University couldn't overcome a late University of Richmond rally as the Spiders edged the Rams, 9-8, in their final at bat Wednesday afternoon in the Farm Bureau Insurance Black & Blue Baseball Classic at Pitt Field.
Junior reliever Jonathan Watson issued a pair of leadoff walks to start the bottom of the ninth and Chris Cuppia sacrificed the runners into scoring position with one out. Evan Stehle then lifted a fly ball into center field and Billy Barber scored from third to give the Spiders the victory.
Sophomore Paul Nice led the Rams offensively with a 4-for-4 showing at the plate. He also contributed two RBI, a pair of doubles and scored a run. Senior Doug Otto went 2-for-4 with an RBI.
Watson suffered his second loss of the season on the mound for VCU, while Richmond's Jared Bard improved to 3-1 after tossing one scoreless inning in relief. Bard was one of seven Spiders to toe the rubber.
Barber slid a one-out single through the left side of the Rams infield, just past the glove of a diving Joe Van Meter, and Bryan Conway scored from second to put Richmond on top early, 1-0.
However, VCU answered with three runs in its next trip to the plate. Van Meter and junior John Lenherr led off the inning with back-to-back singles before Nice was hit by a pitch to load the bases with one out. Senior Nate Furry put the Rams on the board after he took a Billy Falasco offering off his left shoulder. Junior Michael Cheatham then followed with a sacrifice fly into left and senior Matt Leskiw came through with an RBI single up the middle and VCU took a 3-1 advantage.
Nice nearly missed a home run with two outs in the third as his ball hit the top of the wall in left center and came back into play for a double, which allowed Lenherr and sophomore Brent Mikionis to score and the Rams increased their lead to 5-1.
In the bottom of the third, Mike Mergenthaler pulled Richmond within 5-3 after he blasted a two-run homer over the right field fence but Cheatham scored on an RBI single by Otto in the fourth and VCU went back ahead 6-3.
Barber roped a double down the left field line and started a two-out rally for Richmond in the bottom of the fifth. Cameron Brown followed with an RBI single through the left side and the Spiders pulled within 6-4. Sophomore Kyle Pelchy then relieved starter Ryan Farrar and surrendered a two-run homer to Chris Cowell and Richmond knotted the score at six runs apiece.
It didn't take long for the Rams to regain the lead as Cheatham hit his first home run of the season down the right field line to start the VCU sixth and the Rams went back ahead 7-6. Van Meter later sent a sacrifice fly into left field and Leskiw came home to give the Black & Gold a two-run cushion.
Brown blooped a one-out single into center field and Barber, who collected his second double of the day, scored from second base and pulled Richmond within 8-7 in the bottom of the seventh. Stehle, who was the fourth-straight Spider to reach with a hit, sent a ground ball up the middle and plated Brown to even the score at 8-8. Watson then relieved Pelchy, threw four pitches and retired the final two Richmond batters to end the threat.
The Rams had an opportunity to take the lead in the ninth with runners on first and second and only one out but Cheatham lined into a double play after Bard made a snag on the mound.
VCU returns to Colonial Athletic Association action this weekend for a three-game series at Hofstra beginning Friday at 3 p.m.