LEXINGTON, Va. – The Patriots scored five runs in each of the first two innings to build a 10-0 lead on Wednesday night, but VMI rallied for a 20-17 win at Gray-Minor Stadium in a game that lasted four hours and 37 minutes.
Mason (4-13) sent 10 batters to the plate in the first inning and took advantage of two walks and two hit batters to jump in front 5-0. Keydets starter Jared Silva struggled with his control, hitting leadoff man Brandon Gum and then allowing a single to sophomore Michael Smith.
With one out, freshman Greg Popatak II just missed a home run, driving the ball high off the left field wall with Gum scoring from second base to make the score 1-0. With two outs, freshman Tim Quinn walked to load the bases and sophomore Timothy Turner was issued a free pass that forced in Smith for a 2-0 Mason lead. Sophomore Garett Driscoll was then grazed by a pitch, with Popatak strolling home for a 3-0 Mason advantage and freshman Ryan Tassone stayed hot at the plate, driving in two more runs with a double to left field to make it 5-0. Five runs are the most the Patriots have scored in the first inning this season.
After failing to bat around in an inning in the first 15 games of the season, Mason has accomplished the feat twice in the last two games.
The Patriots scored five more runs in the top of the second. Smith led off with a walk and promptly stole his first two bases of the season, swiping both second and third and then scored on a ground out to make it 6-0. After Quinn drove in a run with a single to make it 7-0 and Turner walked, Driscoll hammered a 3-run homer over the right field wall and it was 10-0 Mason.
The Keydets dented the scoreboard in the home half of the second against Mason starter Ryan Ricci and started a stretch where they scored 14 unanswered runs. With one out, six straight VMI hitters reached base and three Keydets drove in a run to cut the Mason lead to 10-4.
In the bottom of the third VMI (11-8) used three walks, two hit batters and sent 11 hitters to the plate to turn the game around. The Keydets scored eight runs on only three hits to take a 12-10 lead and wouldn't trail again.
Junior Tyler Kardas entered the game in relief of Ricci but couldn't silence the VMI rally. With runners on first and second, Kardas allowed a three-run homer to right field and the Patriots 10-run advantage was cut to 10-7. VMI has more home runs (31) than any team in Division-1.
The Keydets then loaded the bases with one out and Mason turned to senior left-hander Evan Porcella. He allowed a run on a wild pitch and three more runs on back-to-back RBI doubles and VMI had taken a 12-10 lead.
VMI added two runs in both the fourth and fifth innings to build a 16-10 advantage, but the Patriots rallied back with four runs of their own in the top of the sixth. Tassone drove in a run with a RBI single and Gum hit his first home run of the season, a three-run no-doubter that disappeared into the darkness well beyond the left field wall to cut the VMI lead to 16-14.
The Keydets answered back with two runs in the bottom of the sixth. With two outs sophomore Saul Aguilera walked two batters and then reliever Tyler Tobin allowed a double that plated two runs that put VMI up 18-14.
Mason wouldn't go away quietly. Popatak and sophomore Tyler Nelin each singled to start the top of the seventh and Driscoll drove them both in with a two-RBI double into the gap in left-center field. Gum added a RBI single to right field, with Nelin crossing the plate to make it a one-run game 18-17.
VMI generated two runs in the bottom of the seventh inning to make it 20-17. The only inning that the Keydets didn't score was in the first.
Mason threatened in the ninth inning when sophomore Frank Sturek walked and Driscoll doubled to put runners on second and third with no outs, but VMI reliever Taylor Eden retired the next three batters he faced to preserve the win for the Keydets.
Every player in the starting lineup for both teams reached base at least once with a hit, walk or hit by a pitch and 17 of the 18 players in the starting lineup scored at least one run.
The two teams combined to go 26-for-52 with runners on base and 20-for-43 with runners in scoring position. The 37 combined runs scored set a new Gray-Minor Stadium record.
Ricci allowed six runs on five hits over two innings in his second start of the season. Kardas allowed four runs on just one hit and retired just one one batter in his outing. He walked two and hit two batters. Porcella (0-2) surrendered four runs on four hits in 1.2 innings and took the loss.
Nathan Eaton (1-0) allowed seven runs on seven hits with five walks in 3.2 innings but earned the Keydets first win over Mason since 1990. There were a total of 417 pitches thrown in the game.
Driscoll went 4-for-5 with six RBI and scored three runs. Tassone finished 3-for-5 with three RBI. Popatak went 3-for-5 and crossed the plate three times. Gum was 2-for-6 with four runs batted in and Turner walked four times and scored three runs in the game.
The Patriots return to Spuhler Field Friday, March 18 to begin a three-game series against Long Island. The first pitch on Friday is scheduled for 3 p.m. with RHP Tyler Zombro the probable starter for Mason.