The University of Rhode Island baseball team opened their 2017 season this past weekend in the Lake Area Classic at McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
Rhode Island came back home sporting a 1-2 record to start the season. The Rams lost the first two games, falling to Missouri State on Friday, and dropping a heartbreaker on Saturday to McNeese State. Their lone win over the weekend came against Stony Brook University.
On Friday, the Rams would send their ace, southpaw pitcher Tyler Wilson to the mound to challenge Missouri State. Wilson and his offense struggled as URI fell to the Bears 12-1. Wilson’s final line was 1.2 innings pitched, one hit allowed, five runs all earned, six walks and two strikeouts.
“His command wasn’t there,” Rhode Island Skipper Raphael Cerrato said about Wilson’s performance. “He still is not 100 percent arm strength wise. The velocity and his stuff really wasn’t there as well. The combination of all of that results in a poor performance. He knows it. He understands it. He’s not happy with himself.”
Cerrato said that Wilson did look strong in his bullpen session on Tuesday and looks to bounce back on Friday against Houston Baptist.
URI looked to put the blowout loss to Missouri State behind them as they battled McNeese State on Saturday. Going into the ninth inning Rhode Island was down 4-2 to McNeese. The Rams would rally in the top of the ninth and score two runs to tie the game up at four.
With two outs and Jordan Powell on third and Martin Figueroa on second, URI’s freshman catcher Sonny Ulliana would come in clutch with a base hit to right field to plate Powell pulling the Rams within one. Then the next batter, Mike Corin, would single and score Figueroa to tie the game up. However, Rhode Island’s comeback was short lived as McNeese State’s Dustin Duhon, with one out in the ninth, would fly out to center field and send Will Fox home on a sacrifice fly to take the game 5-4.
The bright spot in the loss to McNeese was Ulliana’s offensive production. He went 3-for-5 with three RBI’s on Saturday. After the previous starting catcher Chase Livingston was selected by the Kansas City Royals in last year’s MLB draft, the Rams were desperate for a strong two-way catcher and that is what they believe to have found in Ulliana.
“We have high expectations for Sonny,” Cerrato said. “I know it does not phase him to be in the lineup as a freshman. Mentally he is mature enough to handle it. He is a dangerous hitter. He has had some very good at bats. The way he hit, the way he worked through at bats he should have success.”
On the final day of the trip, Rhode Island would take home a victory over Stony Brook, 6-3. The Rams would get six strong innings from pitcher Matt Murphy, who was a short stop at Assumption before transferring to URI and making the successful transition to starting pitcher. Murphy did not allow a run over his six innings of work and only gave up three hits.
Murphy and saturday’s starter Nick Johnson both impressed Cerrato with their performances. “Between Nick and Matt they were both dominant,” Cerrato said. “Their stuff was very good. They competed. They both worked around two first inning walks and did not walk anyone after that. If these guys [Johnson and Murphy] continue to pitch like that, and Tyler gets back on track we are going to have three number one pitchers pitching every weekend.”
The Rams do not have a home contest until March 31, but Cerrato says that time on the road will help the team grow as a unit. “On the road it’s just us,” he said. “It’s a grind. It’s a grind on them academically. They have to really stay on top of their schoolwork. But, that’s the nature of college baseball in the northeast. I’m fired up. I like this group and think we have a chance to be very good.”
The Rams go back on the road this upcoming weekend to take on Houston Baptist in a four-game set with one game on Friday, a doubleheader on Saturday and the series finale on Sunday.