By Jack Margaros
SPRINGFIELD –Noah Bleakley stepped to the plate as the third batter to face Colin Gauthier – who came out of the bullpen in the second inning.
The Springfield College offense had already pounced on Rhode Island College starter Cameron Harris for five runs through one plus innings, causing Gauthier to enter earlier than expected.
With two runners on base, Bleakley sent the first pitch out to deep left center field. Josh Silva and Joseph Coro raced back but watched the ball sail over the left center fence measured at 412 feet — the deepest part of Archie Allen Field — for a three-run home run to break open an 8-0 lead.
“That was a big fly,” Springfield head coach Mark Simeone said. “He’s a strong guy with quick hands.”
Jake Gleason added another home run, a solo shot in the fourth, that dunked over the 406 sign in right center field as the Pride defeated RIC, 9-5, on Wednesday.
Bleakley was not originally scheduled to be in Wednesday’s lineup, as he tossed over 100 pitches yesterday against Babson. What was initially scheduled to be an off-day turned into being slotted as the cleanup hitter in lieu of Brandon Drabinski tweaking his hamstring. Bleakley was more than adequate, going 2-for-3 with four RBI and a walk.
“His good day today revolved around two things. Being more selective on the pitches he swung at and then being confident in what he was doing,” Simeone said. “After the two-strike base hit in his last at-bat, I said ‘hey remember your approach and what you’re doing today because that’s how good you can be offensively.’”
Not everyone can survive as a two-way player when they enter the collegiate level. After playing mostly third base last season and pitching a handful of innings on the mound, Bleakley has transformed himself into a starting rotation arm and the team’s full-time first baseman.
“Doing it at the college level is a whole different game,” Simeone said. “It’s a whole different volume at a higher level. Noah is capable of doing it and he’s making that transition to do it.”
The pair of home runs marks three in the past two days for Springfield, and 13 overall for the season. Historically, Springfield is not a team known for the long ball.
Over the past five seasons, the Pride has averaged just over seven home runs per season. The past two seasons were the only times the team reached double digits (11 in 2018, 12 in 2017) in that time frame.
This season, the Pride already broke last year’s total, and still have over two weeks remaining. At Archie Allen, there has been a home run in six of the 14 games hosted. Both home runs on Wednesday – especially Bleakey’s – was something Simeone hasn’t seen in a while.
“It’s been a long time,” he said. “To be able to witness that and do it at home and have other people see it was pretty cool.”
The home runs came at the right time. Coming into Wednesday’s game, the Pride dropped a frustrating 10-9 loss in extra innings to No. 14 Babson the night before. Springfield jumped out to a 6-0 lead before allowing the Beavers to plate seven unanswered runs. Springfield eventually re-gained a 9-7 lead with just three outs needed to win but permitted two runs and then the game-winning run in the tenth to give Babson the win.
“How you respond to that and how you react to that is really important and we did a good job today,” Simeone said.
Now with some momentum gained after defeating RIC, the Pride enter its most important series of the season starting Friday against WPI. The winner of the three-game set determines the winner of the NEWMAC West Division. By the end of this weekend, Springfield could clinch one of the two top seeds in the conference tournament, which begins on May 2. The Pride travel to Worcester on Friday before hosting the Engineers for a twin bill on Saturday.
Photo courtesy Jack Margaros