HARRISONBURG, Va. – The VCU baseball team locked up a berth in the 2012 CAA Tournament, with a 10-8 victory over James Madison on Sunday afternoon.
With the score tied 8-8 in the top of the ninth inning, freshman infielder Vimael Machin lifted a two-out single to right field to keep the inning alive, allowing redshirt junior Brent Mikionis to come to the plate. With a 1-2 count, Mikionis belted the next pitch over the wall in left field, to hand the Rams the 10-8 advantage. It was the second home run of the day for Mikionis and fifth on the year.
"He has been seeing the ball extremely well all weekend," said VCU associate head coach Shawn Stiffler. "He got a pitch he was looking for elevated and didn't miss it."
Junior pitcher Blake Hauser returned to the mound in the bottom of the ninth, after pitching a scoreless eighth, and struck out the side to capture the victory.
VCU's overall record now stands at 30-22, including a 15-15 mark in CAA play. This marks the first time since 2010 that the Rams have garnered 30 regular season victories. James Madison's record drops to 16-31-2 overall, including a 10-17 record in league action.
"I couldn't be more proud of this team's performance," added Stiffler. "We have only accomplished one of our team goals so far, which was to make the CAA tournament, but it's the first step for us. I don't think there is any team in the country that has had to deal with what we have had to, to get to their conference tournament. This team has had to deal with things that not many people have, and they have completely answered the bell every time. They have done everything that Coach Keyes, Coach Palumbo, Coach Rhodes and I have asked of them. As far as the baseball game went, we were resilient. Give credit to JMU, they played hard for all three games and are a really talented team. I am just really proud to be a Ram right now.
The Rams jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning, as sophomore outfielder Bill Cullen led off the contest with a four-pitch walk. Cullen advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by junior infielder Jordan Weymouth, before taking third on a wild pitch. Cullen would come around to score on a groundout by redshirt junior outfielder Taylor Buran.
The Dukes took their first lead of the contest in the bottom of the second inning, pushing across a pair of runs on VCU junior pitcher Kyle Haynes.
Weymouth got the Rams started off right in the top of the third inning, with a one-out double into right field. The Paradise Valley, Ariz., native came around to score on a double off the wall in left by Cujas.
Both sides would manufacture a pair of runs fourth inning, to knot the score at 4-4. Machin led off the fourth with single to right field, before Mikionis belted a two-run home run over the left field wall.
The Dukes regained the lead in the top of the fifth inning, for a 5-4 advantage, before the Rams posted four runs in the top of the sixth inning.
The inning started with Machin earning a walk and Mikionis drawing a pitch on his arm to put runners on first and second. Senior catcher Nick Abrahamson laid down a sacrifice bunt to the pitcher, but the Dukes attempted to throw out Machin at third, coming away unsuccessful. Machin scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by senior outfielder Paul Nice, which allowed Mikionis to take third on the play. Cullen drew another walk to load the bases, before Weymouth slapped a single into left field, to score Mikionis and Abrahamson, and push Cullen to third. Cullen would come around to score on a groundout by Cujas.
James Madison posted three runs in the bottom of the seventh inning, to even the score at 8-8.
The Rams would pull ahead for good in the top of the ninth inning, behind Mikionis' two-run home run.
Hauser earned the victory for the Black & Gold, with two innings pitched and four strikeouts. James Madison's Chris Huffman suffered the loss for the Dukes.
The Rams celebrated a career milestone in the top of the ninth inning, as Nice drew his 51st career hit-by-pitch. The Powhatan, Va., native broke Kwan Evans' (2004-08) record, which was 50.
The Rams are set to battle with in-state rival University of Virginia, this Tuesday in Charlottesville. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m.