Fordham Baseball Sweeps NJIT to Launch the 2021 Season

Rams outscore the Highlanders 18-9 in three-game opening series



The Fordham baseball team swept the New Jersey Institute of Technology (NJIT) Highlanders in its first series of the 2021 season. After losing most of their games in 2020 to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Rams returned strong in a 3-0 start.

Before their first game against the Highlanders on Saturday, March 6, it had been 360 days since the Rams had stepped foot on a baseball field to represent their university. For NJIT, it had been eight days, as the team had already begun its 2021 season by dropping two of three games against the Virginia Military Institute.

Strong Start on Opening Day

Despite the extremely long break, or perhaps as a result of being kept off the field for so long, the Rams scored early and often in their first game. The team scored two runs in the bottom of the first on a throwing error and sacrifice fly, and another sacrifice fly in the second gave the team an early 3-0 lead.

In his first start of 2021, pitcher Matt Mikulski, Fordham College at Rose Hill (FCRH) ’21, was very effective, striking out eight batters in four innings of work. He struggled in the fourth, allowing two runs, but managed to escape without any further damage. It was an encouraging glimpse of what the ace has in store later this season.

matt mikulski pitches in a game against njit
Ace pitcher Matt Mikulski, FCRH ’21, struck out eight batters in four innings on opening day. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

The Rams responded to the Highlanders’ two-run inning by scoring one in the bottom of the fifth and another in the sixth. In the final three frames, NJIT was helpless at the plate against relief pitcher Jack Popolizio, FCRH ’23, who allowed just one hit to secure a 5-3 victory in Fordham’s debut.

Game Two Goes to Extras

The second game took place the following day, the first of a Sunday doubleheader against the Highlanders. In the first season of his college baseball career, Brooks Ey, FCRH ’24, performed valiantly after a tough beginning. NJIT runners had the jump on Ey early, stealing three total bases in the first inning. With a runner on second, the first-year gave up a long double down the left field line by Matt Cocciadiferro, NJIT ’21, batting in Ey’s first earned run. He wouldn’t allow another one.

The upstart from Philadelphia eventually took control on the mound and pitched three innings of shutout baseball, finishing the day with five strikeouts while allowing one earned run on three hits. It was a brave recovery for a young pitcher, and Fordham batters supported his efforts. 

In the third inning, C.J. Vazquez, Gabelli School of Business at Rose Hill (GSBRH) ’21; Casey Brown, FCRH ’21; and Jason Coules, FCRH ’22, hit back-to-back-to-back doubles to give Fordham a 2-1 lead.

The two teams were largely quiet from there, but a 3-run rally for the Highlanders in the top of the seventh put Fordham behind once more. In the bottom of the ninth, with the bases loaded and two outs, the Rams faced a 4-3 deficit with one opportunity to come back.

jason coules swinging a bat in the njit game
Jason Coules, FCRH ’22, had five hits in 11 at-bats against NJIT, including three for extra bases. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

Trey Maeker, FCRH ’24, eventually grounded out to end the inning, but not before a stroke of luck brought the Rams back into contention. On a 0-1 count to Maeker, an errant pitch from the Highlanders’ closer Evan Gegeckas, NJIT ’21, snuck through the legs of catcher Paul Franzoni, NJIT ’21, and rolled to the backstop, allowing Vazquez to score and tie the game, 4-4. The game headed to extra innings.

Neither team managed to score in the 10th, and after keeping the Highlanders in check in the top of the 11th, the Rams had another chance to win in the bottom of the frame. Vazquez, who had already started two rallies that day, reached first again and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt. He then stole third and found himself 90 feet away from another Fordham victory.

Fordham’s three-game sweep of the Highlanders was not necessarily a surprise, as the team has played NJIT 10 times in the past decade and only lost once.

With two outs in the bottom of the 11th, Nick Labella, FCRH ’21, stepped up to the plate. There were men on second and third, but that didn’t really matter for the batter. A single won the game and an out kept it going. He swung and missed at the first pitch, took, fouled off the third and took again. 

With a 2-2 count, he pulled an inside pitch, a line drive and a potential game-winner. Highlanders shortstop David Marcano, NJIT ’21, was shifted ever-so-slightly to play Labella up the middle and made a final desperate lunge to save the game. The ball flew just past the edge of his glove to the elation of the Rams’ dugout, who ran out to swarm Vazquez and Labella in celebration of the team’s second win of the season, 5-4.

Rams Secure the Sweep

As the sun set on Fordham’s comeback win, the temperature dropped and the two teams prepared for the final game of their series. Garrett Crowley, GSBRH ’22, took the mound for the Rams and shut down the Highlanders for four innings, allowing just one run on four hits.

NJIT looked sloppy from the start, with a throwing error by Franzoni allowing Vazquez to score from third in the bottom of the first. This would prove to be a theme throughout the game, as only four of the eight runs allowed by NJIT pitchers were earned. 

To begin the bottom of the third, Vazquez singled to right field to start the inning before advancing to third on an errant pickoff throw by Highlanders pitcher Tyler Stafflinger, NJIT ’21. Coules drove him in with a single to left field before attempting to steal second. Franzoni overthrew second base again, extending the inning and allowing Coules to advance to third. Labella secured another RBI by singling to left field before Selinger roped a double into the left-center gap to give the Rams a commanding 4-0 lead.

crowley pitching against njit
Garrett Crowley, GSBRH ’22, pitched four innings of shutout baseball in Fordham’s third game. (COURTESY OF FORDHAM ATHLETICS)

The Highlanders responded meekly in the top of the fourth, when shortstop Daniel Helfgott, NJIT ’23, knocked in Nick Hussey, NJIT ’21, to plate NJIT’s first run of the game. 

The Rams maintained their 4-1 lead over the Highlanders until the bottom of the seventh inning. With two outs, Selinger scored on a wild pitch to lengthen Fordham’s lead, 5-1. 

Then, with runners on first and third, Vazquez hit a routine pop fly to Cocciadiferro. Cocciadiferro dropped the pop-up, allowing the Rams to clear the bases and extend the inning. To add insult to injury, Coules tripled to drive in Fordham’s eighth run of the game.

In the top of the seventh and final inning of the exhibition series, Joseph Quintal, GSBRH ’21, allowed one run but was able to close the door on the Highlanders, securing an easy 8-2 victory for the Rams. 

Fordham’s three-game sweep of the Highlanders was not necessarily a surprise, as the team has played NJIT 10 times in the past decade and only lost once. But with high hopes for another successful season, the Rams’ triumphant return to the diamond is a reassuring sign. 

The pitching appeared strong and the bats were hot in near-freezing temperatures, and while tougher competition lies ahead, it appears that the Rams are once again prepared to make some noise in the A10 conference.