The Dayton Flyers baseball team celebrate their 7-6 walk-off win over Oakland Sunday afternoon. Photo courtesy of Dayton Athletics.
After opening the season with six games in the Carolinas, the Dayton Flyers baseball team returned to Woerner Field to face Oakland for a 4-game series, where they walked off in the finale Sunday to split the games.
The Flyers opened the season with a 3-game series against South Carolina in Columbia, S.C. Feb. 19-21. Swept in the series and outscored 27-7, the Flyers’ start to the season wasn’t ideal.
Next, the Flyers traveled to Buies Creek, N.C., where they faced Campbell Feb. 26-28 and got their first win of the season, but lost two of three, falling to 1-5.
“(From those games) you learn what you’re going to get away with, and what you’re not going to get away with when you play good teams,” head coach Jayson King said. “I think that sets a really high standard for the rest of the season, and I think that was the case with those series.”
A single game against Tennessee scheduled for March 3 in Knoxville was cancelled, so the Flyers returned back to Dayton for their first home series, starting on Friday, March 5 against Oakland.
“It feels really good to be home,” King said about being back at Woerner Field for the first time since March 8, 2020. “It’s fun to be on the road and see different places and play some teams you haven’t played in the past, but being at home when your family can be here, and you can sleep in your own bed is really good.”
The Flyers jumped all over the Golden Grizzlies in their home opener, scoring 10 runs in a 10-1 win, with junior first baseman Marcos Pujols (who King highlighted for having a “heck of a season so far”), graduate senior designated hitter Alex Brickman, and pinch-hitting graduate senior Eddie Pursinger combining for 7 runs batted in.
However, the Flyers stumbled in the Saturday doubleheader, losing the first game 5-3 and the second 2-1, both in seven innings.
“The first game (back in Dayton) we got guys on base, we took a lot of good at bats, and the starting pitching was good,” King said. “And then, for us, it’s just a matter of playing the way that we’re capable of. In the games that didn’t go our way, the intensity was down a little bit. And then, I think getting back here today, the guys were well into the game, totally involved, and you could see it with the difference it made.”
In the Sunday finale, the Flyers gave up a leadoff home run, but tied the game in the fourth inning on an RBI single by graduate senior outfielder Chris Cabrera.
However, the Golden Grizzlies grabbed a 3-1 lead on an RBI single and ensuing error by the Flyers that allowed the second run to score.
The Flyers weren’t long in waiting to respond again, though, getting runners on first and second with one out via an error and a hit by pitch in the sixth inning.
With two outs after a pop-out, junior shortstop Benjamin Blackwell took an outside pitch to the opposite field into right field, scoring Cabrera and moving runners to first and third. Oakland’s catcher then had a ball in the dirt go through his legs, allowing Pursinger to score from third and move Blackwell up to second. Oakland got the third out, but the Flyers had tied the score at 3 heading into the seventh inning.
However, the Golden Grizzlies put up three runs in the top of the seventh inning to take a 6-3 lead into the seventh inning stretch.
The Flyers once again fought back, getting runners on second and third with a walk and a double by senior second baseman Mariano Riccardi – who King has called “very consistent” in the early part of the year – that was lost in the sun by the center fielder. Senior third baseman Riley Tirotta hit a sacrifice fly to right-center field that scored one, and Pujols singled to score the run from third to make it a 6-5 Oakland lead heading into the eighth inning.
“We made a lot of mistakes today,” King said. “But at the end of the day, the fight was there, and the commitment to each other and to the team was there, and usually when that’s the case, good things happen.”
The Flyers then got to the bottom of the ninth inning, down one run. After the first batter flew out to short left-center field, Pujols and then senior pinch hitter Nolan Watson were both hit by a pitch. With one out, a wild pitch moved up Watson and Pujols’ pinch runner, freshman outfielder Anthony Steinhardt, moved up to second and third, and after the pitch, the Golden Grizzlies intentionally walked Pursinger.
With the bases now loaded, a wild pitch scored Steinhardt and moved everyone else up one base, and the score was now tied at 6. On a 1-1 count, Brickman hit a high-bouncing grounder toward the Oakland shortstop, and Watson had plenty of time to score from third, giving the Flyers a walk-off win to close the home-opening series of 2021 by a score of 7-6.
“(I saw) some resiliency (in the final inning),” King said. “Some guys that really wanted to make some things happen, and we’re committed to trying to make today a good day, so it was nice to see from the guys, the fight there at the end that they had.”
With a record of 3-7, the Flyers now face North Dakota State (7-3) for another four-game home series from March 12-16 (no game on Monday, March 15). King said the team needs to play “cleaner baseball” to have future success this year.
“We need to get away from the errors and the free bases and walks,” King said. “Our lineup eventually is going to be extremely dangerous once we get going, so it’s just nice to be playing on a regular basis and I think the more we play the better we are going to get.”