BRONX, N.Y. – The first pitch was eight minutes away. Freshman Max Kaplow was scheduled to take the mound, and lineups were already announced.
But just before the n3ational anthem, former Fordham Prep high school star Kenny O’Brien, now a GW senior, got the call to start his first game in two years.
O’Brien had thrown 17 2/3 innings all season, all in relief. Sunday, he pitched a complete game, surrendering two runs, one earned, and striking out three in GW’s 5-2 victory.
It was a gritty performance in which the side-arming lefty worked in and out of trouble through the first half of the game, putting the GW bullpen in a constant state of high alert. But O’Brien turned it around for a solid end to his performance, retiring the final 13 batters and becoming seemingly un-hittable.
“The opportunity to start, I definitely wanted it, I told [head] coach [Gregg Ritchie]. And I was pretty pumped up for the duration of the game,” O’Brien said.
“Pretty pumped” indeed – he tossed 120 pitches for GW (14-25, 7-8 A-10) in the nine innings of play, giving up only six hits.
“I think adrenaline was pitching the entire time. I don’t even care [about the pitch count], I’m good to go next week,” O’Brien said.
Ritchie let O’Brien go out and work for the win in his hometown in the rubber match of the series at Fordham after Kaplow was scratched because of arm fatigue.
After a first-pitch strike, O’Brien, delivering uncharacteristically from the stretch, walked the leadoff batter in four straight pitches. A sacrifice bunt turned into a hit to set up a dangerous situation for the senior hurler, but a crafty pickoff play got the runner at second and then a double play erased Fordham’s first inning chances.
“I was hoping to get 60 to 70 pitches out of him. Hoping. We just kept going inning after inning, trying to get him through a batter at a time and see how far he could go,” associate head coach Tom Sheridan said. “I think his slider got better through the game and he fed off his confidence.”
O’Brien cruised through the second half of the game, not allowing a baserunner from the sixth inning on. But the bats were also there for the Colonials, supporting the senior in his full-game effort.
Senior Justin Albright continued his torrid pace with a two-for-four day, with one RBI. In the second inning, GW scored three runs, ultimately enough for the win. Senior Matthew Murakami smacked a ball through the right side of the infield with runners on first and second, driving in the first run. Then a misplayed ball by the right fielder helped the Colonials tack on another two runs.
Game one of the series on Friday went as well as the Colonials could have hoped. GW dominated both sides of the ball, with a 9-0 win on the strength of junior Aaron Weisberg’s seven-strike out, five-hit shutout.
“It was really just fastball command and pitching to contact later in the game, and [the] defense was behind me the whole way,” Weisberg said. “I was just really economical with my pitches.”
GW climbed out to an early 1-0 lead in the first with fundamental baseball, jumpstarted by its hottest player, Albright. He led off the game with a single, stole second, advanced to third on sacrifice bunt and then scored on a sacrifice fly.
That was all GW would need. Weisberg had an early scare with the bases loaded in the first, but a strikeout worked him out of the jam as he cruised the rest of the way.
Junior Owen Beightol and sophomore Xavier Parkmond helped the power effort with Beightol’s three RBI day, including a big triple, while Parkmond smacked his first career homer.
In game two Saturday, GW allowed a four-run third inning and couldn’t rally against the Rams’ right-hander who went eight innings allowing only one run. It was Fordham’s second conference win of the season.
“We had one bad inning the whole weekend. Six earned runs in 27 innings, you’d take that anytime. It’ll make the bus trip going home that much better,” Sheridan said after Sunday’s game.
O’Brien embodied that mentality, earning the emergency start and keeping GW’s A-10 chances well alive with the series win.
“I told him right before the game started, ‘Hey, you got a chance to be a hometown hero,’ and [it] turned out to be a pretty good game for him,” Sheridan said.