Down to final out, baseball rallies in instant classic

Rory McTear is hitting .300 with nine RBIs in 2012. (Justin Toran-Burrell/The Phoenix)

Trailing by six runs with the bases empty and down to the last strike, it seemed unlikely that the Swarthmore baseball team would have its first undefeated spring break under head coach Stan Exeter. Going into the seventh and final inning, the Garnet had amassed only two runs on four hits, left eight runners on base and were down 8-2 to Pitt-Bradford in the second game of a doubleheader. Then, the improbable happened.

“The rally was definitely the most surreal baseball moment I have ever been a part of,” pitcher Kyle Crawford ’12 said. “Even after the game, we were all stunned at what had happened.”

Starter Zach Weiner won his third game of the season on Tuesday. (Justin Toran-Burrell/The Phoenix)

“During the whole rally all I could think was how unbelievable the whole inning was,” right fielder Tim Kwilos ’13 said.

With its back against the wall, the team staged one of the most remarkable comebacks in Swarthmore history, scoring 11 runs on eight hits, which included four home runs and a two-RBI double.

Prospects were grim after the inning began with strikeouts by first baseman Nicko Burnett ’14 and Scoop Ruxin ’15, but the Garnet’s life was extended after right fielder Mike Cameron ’12 took a full-count walk from opposing pitcher Zac Roller.

Pinch hitter Sam Menzin ’12 drew another walk and both runners moved into scoring position after a wild pitch by Roller. They were driven in by a double from center fielder Rory McTear ’13, who was a Second Team All-Centennial Conference selection last season.

Still down 4-8 at that point, the offense went on a tear with multiple-RBI home runs accounting for four of its next seven hits. For Sean Bryant ’13, there was no better time for his first career homer, a monster shot that cleared the scoreboard, drove in McTear and lessened the deficit to two.

Following Bryant, shortstop Danny McMahon ’15 continued a strong first-year campaign with a double to centerfield. Driving him in was catcher Miles Santo ’12, who tied the game with a home run on a two-strike count. Although the score was even at that point, the momentum was irreversibly turned in favor of the Garnet.

Second baseman Cody Ruben ’14 continued the incredible rally with a single, after which Roller was replaced and put in right field. The pitching change made little difference as Swarthmore’s offensive success continued with an unlikely homer from Burnett. Initially, his hit appeared to be a catchable fly ball, but given the improbability of the rally, it was no surprise when it sailed over the outfield wall, clearing it by a mere foot.

Ahead by two, the Garnet added insurance with a home run from Menzin, the first of his career, which drove in Ruxin and pinch runner Gregory Cox ’15. The top of the inning finally ended after Bryant flied out to left field.

In the bottom of the inning, relief pitcher Zach Weiner ’12 made short work of Pitt-Bradford, retiring the side with two strikeouts and no baserunners. After an 11 run outing in the seventh inning, the Garnet won the game 13-8 in the most dramatic fashion possible.

The win was the perfect ending to a perfect spring break, in which the team finished 8-0 and improved to 10-2 overall, its best start since 1985. The games, which took place in Chandler and Tucson, AZ, saw impressive performances from Swarthmore in all aspects of the game.

The team kicked off its break on Mar. 3 with an absolutely dominant 16-2 victory over Pitt-Bradford.

Leadoff hitter Anthony Montalbano ’12, who leads the team with an impressive .478 batting average, scored four runs off of three hits in the game. Burnett and Mike Waterhouse ’12 went a perfect three-for-three on the day and Waterhouse drew two walks. Spencer Ross ’12 led the team in RBI, driving in three runners off of three hits. Kwilos had the lone home run for the Garnet, a two-RBI drive in the bottom of the fourth inning.

Equally impressive was the outing by starting pitcher Ignacio Rodriguez ’12, who struck out 11 batters and allowed only one run on five hits. Adam Hardy ’12 was strong in relief, striking out two in two innings.

In the second game of the series, Swarthmore won 10-7 behind another strong offensive showing. Burnett had two hits and two RBI and Kwilos hit yet another homer, another two-RBI shot, this time in the top of the fifth inning. He finished the game with three runs batted in on two hits.

The next day, the Garnet swept Bethany Lutheran with 6-5 and 13-4 wins.

In the second game of the doubleheader, the Garnet trailed early and was down four after the first inning, but evened the score by the fifth. In the final inning, the team completely blew away Bethany Lutheran with a nine run outburst. In total, Montalbano had four hits, Kwilos had four RBI, and McMahon drove in two runners.

In five innings, starter Grant Johnson ’14 earned four runs, all of which came in the first period of the game. After that initial setback, Johnson performed well, allowing only three hits in the remaining four innings. Hardy allowed just one hit in relief and Dylan Jeffers ’15 closed the game easily, striking out all three of the batters he faced in the final inning.

After a three-day rest, the Garnet returned to action on Mar. 8 against Saint John’s University and Presentation College (South Dakota), winning 12-9 and 6-1, respectively.

In the first game, the team received major contributions from the front half of its batting order, which consisted of Montalbano, Burnett, Waterhouse and Kwilos. The foursome accounted for seven of the team’s nine runs and eight RBIs, three of which came from Kwilos in the cleanup spot.

The offense continued its strong play against Presentation, scoring six runs off 11 hits. Also impressive was the start from Jeffers, who picked up the win after pitching six innings with only three hits and one earned run.

Off the field, the team was able to relax and grow closer during break. One particularly memorable experience for the players was the yearly tradition of eating at Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse.

“Going to Pinnacle Peak Steakhouse was definitely one of the highlights off the field,” Montalbano said. “It was special for me and all the other seniors because we’ve gone there every time we’ve been in Arizona, and we all knew this was our last time going there together with the team.”

Although the team had a successful break, it realizes that there is no time for complacency with the conference season ahead.

“Even though we didn’t lose a game on spring break, none of those games really mean much once we get into conference play.” McTear said. “We’re happy we’re winning games, but the only games that matter are the 18 played against conference foes.”

On Tuesday, the team built off its spring break success with an 8-0 shutout win over Penn-State Abington. Weiner picked up his third win of the season, striking out seven and allowing only three hits in eight innings. The next day, the Garnet fell to 11-3 with a 12-1 loss at Widener.

The Garnet return to action on Sunday, Mar. 18 with a home doubleheader against Bates College.

The first game is slated to begin at 12:30 p.m.

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