It took the University of Rhode Island baseball team nine tries before it finally won a game this season.
If the Rams are able to do anything special this season it will be a result of those nine games.
At the beginning of the season Rhody was picked to finish second in the Atlantic 10 behind Saint Louis and once conference play begins it will likely not have as difficult of a stretch of games at any point as it did to start the year.
URI kicked off its season in the second week of February in absolutely brutal fashion; back-to-back three game series at Florida State and Ole Miss, respectively, and then two games at Mississippi State before
heading off to a tournament at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, N.C.
“These guys just haven’t learned how to finish games against the best teams in the country,” URI head coach Jim Foster said. “It’s tough playing at Florida State. It’s not like it’s a lot different than this but if we could play Florida State here it would be different.
“It’s a big advantage playing at home and there’s a reason why they lead the country in walks every year. These guys had a seventh inning lead on Saturday [Feb. 16] and an eighth inning lead on Sunday [Feb. 17] so we’re right there.”
The Rams dropped the first game in North Carolina to Virginia Tech 7-3 on March 1 but over the next two days Rhody recorded consecutive victories over Ohio and Notre Dame.
“It makes us better [playing these teams],” Foster said. “These guys have earned and we have an older group that can handle it.
“The difference isn’t that great, it’s not as much as you think and these kids can play. We’re not there yet by any means but these kids can play. They can beat anyone on a given day and they can get beat by anybody on a given day but we do it to make them better and to make the program better.”
URI followed with back-to-back losses to East Tennessee State and Wake Forest on March 10 and 12, respectively, but since then they have lost.
The Rams finished their week in their Carolinas with a win over UNC-Greensboro and a three-game sweep of Winthrop.
After a month of traveling around the South, facing the best teams in the country the Rams finally returned to Kingston for their home opener Wednesday.
“Going on the road for 19 games – 18 games, or whatever it was – and playing the teams that we played it’s not easy,” Foster said. “People have no idea how hard it is and they should be real proud of these kids. I’m very happy with what we’ve done so far.”
Rhody got a great start from Milan Mantle and held on to beat Stony Brook 8-4 at Bill Beck Field.
“It’s good to be home and to play in front of our home crowd back at the Beck playing baseball,” Foster said. “We’re excited about it.”
The Rams took an early lead by jumping all over Stony Brook starter Bryan Tatelman, who in one plus innings of work was tagged for five earned runs.
The Rams held their 5-0 advantage through the first six innings before Stony Brook finally hung one on the board in the top of the seventh.
Stony Brook cut it to 5-2 after eight and one-half innings but the Rams responded in the bottom of the eighth with three more to make it 8-2.
URI reliever Tyler Bowditch was tagged for two unearned runs in the top of the ninth but Stony Brook never seriously threatened to take the lead away.
Shortstop Tim Caputo and catcher Pat Quinn each went 2-for-3 at the plate with two runs scored, while left fielder Kevin Stenhouse was 1-for-4 with three runs batted in.
Mantle threw five strong innings in his start for the Rams and allowed no earned runs on three hits while striking out three.
The Rams will stay at home this weekend for a three-game series with Hofstra; the two teams will play a doubleheader at noon and 3 p.m. Saturday before wrapping up the series Sunday at noon.