Wilmington edges VCU

VCU rallied from a run down to tie the score twice during the first six innings but a bases loaded walk eventually gave UNC Wilmington the lead for good in the eighth, and the Seahawks held on to defeat the Rams, 3-2, Thursday evening in the opener of a three-game Colonial Athletic Association series at Brooks Field.

VCU drops its third straight and slips to 21-31 overall with an 11-17 mark in CAA play. UNC Wilmington, which improves to 29-25, 17-11, moves a step closer to clinching a spot in next week’s four-team CAA Tournament.

Senior Michael Cheatham went 3-for-4, while freshman Joey Cujas and junior Kyle Sutherland each drove in a run for VCU. Hunter Ridge went 2-for-3 with a run and a RBI, while Jake Koenig drew a bases loaded walk to plate the winning run for the Seahawks in the eighth.

UNC Wilmington starter Daniel Cropper tossed his second complete game of the season, allowing two runs on seven hits with five strikeouts. VCU sophomore Blake Hauser, who surrendered three runs on five hits in seven frames, turned in another solid performance on the mound but suffered his first loss since April 12.

Ridge gave UNC Wilmington a 1-0 lead with a base hit in the bottom of the first. Michael Bass singled to lead off the inning and scored two batters later. Hauser then stranded Ridge at first with back-to-back strikeouts to end the early threat.

VCU got the run back in the second after Cheatham and senior John Lenherr sparked a rally with a pair of leadoff singles. Junior Taylor Perkins sacrificed the runners into scoring position and a groundout by Sutherland made it 1-1. However, the Seahawks wasted little time regaining the lead as a sacrifice fly by Cameron Cockman gave UNC Wilmington a 2-1 advantage in the bottom of the inning.

After issuing back-to-back singles in the second, Cropper found a groove and sat down 13-straight VCU batters until freshman Bill Cullen legged out an infield single to break up the streak in the sixth. The rookie then stole second and scored on a two-out base hit by Cujas as the Rams knotted the game at 2-2. Cheatham followed with a single through the left side to put runners on the corners but Cropper got Lenherr to groundout to preserve the tie.

Hauser found a similar groove as Cropper and held the Seahawks without a hit for 5 2/3 innings. He did allow two walks and hit a pair of batters during the span but UNC Wilmington couldn’t take advantage.

Freshman Chris Ayers led off the eighth with a single into center and senior Ryan Caldwell, who pinch ran for the Rams’ designated hitter, stole second base with nobody out. But Cropper settled in, struck out Cullen and induced a pair of groundouts to strand the go-ahead run at second.

The Seahawks would ride that momentum into the bottom of the inning as Matt Campbell beat out a high chopper and Ridge singled into left to put runners on with no outs. Andrew Cain then moved both runners into scoring position with a sacrifice bunt and Thomas Pope was intentionally walked to load the bases with one away. Sophomore reliever Brennan Huelse entered the game to face pinch hitter Ryan LaGrange with the bases juiced and LaGrange hit a ground ball to senior Michael Caddell at shortstop, who threw home for the force out. But Koenig walked a batter later to put UNC Wilmington back on top, 3-2.

Cheatham tried to spark a VCU rally in the ninth with a leadoff single but Cropper got Lenherr to bounce into a double play and Perkins flew out to center to end the game.

The Rams and Seahawks continue the series Friday at 6 p.m. and conclude the three-game set Saturday at 2 p.m.

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