April 23, 2013
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Cujas drives in four as
VCU nips ODU in Key Dog Classic
By Phil Stanton
Va. – The magic number for the night was 5.
Joey Cujas had a two-run homer in the top of the
seventh to snap a 3-3 tie and lift VCU to a 5-4 win over Old
Dominion Tuesday evening in the inaugural Key Dog Strike Out
Cancer Classic at War Memorial Stadium.
“On the schedule it’s another W, but I think we
all know it’s a little bit more than that,” said VCU head coach
Shawn Stiffler (pictured after having his head shaved in a
benefit for pediatric cancer). “That one’s special to me. You
remember your first one probably and you remember your last one
but I’ll always remember the first Key Dog Classic.”
The game was played as a fund-raiser in the
memory of Paul Keyes, former ODU student-athlete, VCU head coach
and Hampton native who passed away this past fall from cancer at
the age of 50. Keyes, known at Key Dog, wore No. 5 during his
career with the Rams, posting 603 wins in 18 seasons.
“The first thing to say is the winning team had
five,” ODU head coach Chris Finwood said. “I was talking about
that with somebody this morning and I said I bet the winning
team is going to have five tonight. When Cujas hit the home run
to put them up at five, I thought we might be in trouble.”
Vimael Machin was hit by a pitch with one away in
the seventh before Cujas crushed a 2-0 offering far over the
left-field fence to put VCU up 5-3.
“I got ahead in the count and was sitting on a
fastball,” Cujas said. “I wanted to help my team win this game.
It was extra important for us to play hard for Coach today.
We’ve been playing hard for him all year but today was extra
special for the event.”
The Rams (20-19) had chances to build on their
lead, but stranded a pair in both the eighth and ninth.
The Monarchs (21-19) were retired in order in the
seventh and eighth before staging a rally in the bottom of the
ninth. Michael Perez had a one-out double to the gap in right
center and Tyler Urps was hit by a pitch. Connor Myers hit a
come-backer to the mound which forced out Urps at second.
Leadoff man Ben Verlander, the top hitter for ODU, was dealt a
series of curve balls from Matt Lees. He hit a nubber to third
that he beat out for an infield hit that plated Perez to make it
a one-run contest. Josh Eldridge grounded out to second to end
the uprising and the contest.
started the scoring in the bottom of the second. Austin McGowan
drew a one-out walk and was forced out at second on a Jordan
Negrini fielder’s choice. Negrini stole second and scored on a
base hit by Perez to give the Monarchs the early lead.
VCU took the lead in the top of the third. Malan
drew a leadoff walk and moved to second on a base hit by Bill
Cullen. Both runners moved up 90 feet on a sac bunt by Machin
and both scored on a single to center by Cujas to give the Rams
a 2-1 advantage.
“I was sitting on the first pitch,” Cujas said.
“I wanted to work early in the count. They got me out with a
fastball before so I had a pretty good idea what was coming. I
tried to stay in the middle of the field and drive a couple runs
The Rams added a run in the fourth as Landon
Prentiss singled with one away and scored on a hit-and-run
double by Jordan Weymouth as VCU took a 3-1 lead.
The Monarchs pulled to within one in the bottom
of the fourth, but could have had more. Ben Slaton and Josiah
Burney had singles to start the inning. McGowan hit a high popup
into shallow left field. Shortstop Machin drifted back, but the
ball carried past him. Left fielder Prentiss appeared to not see
the ball and it fell to the grass. The infield fly rule was not
called. Machin alertly picked up the ball and fired to third to
force out Slaton. The relay throw to second beat Burney to give
the Rams an unorthodox 6-5-4 double play. McGowan did scored on
a double by Negrini to make it a 3-2 contest.
ODU tied it in the fifth as Verlander reached on
a dropped fly ball in center and scored on a base hit by
Seth Greene (2-1) earned the win in relief, going
3.1 innings with two hits, one unearned run, no walks and five
strikeouts. Lees (2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 2 K) recorded his eighth save.
Tommy Alexander (1-3, 4 H, 2 R, 1 BB) fanned
eight in four relief innings, but made the one bad pitch on the
homer to Cujas and suffered the loss.
“Tommy’s been throwing the ball well for us
lately,” Finwood said. “He’s getting better and better. He looks
like he’s going to be a guy who can throw a lot of big innings
for us in the future. It was coming out of his hand pretty good
Would Key Dog have enjoyed the game?
“I think he would have been proud of how the game
went,” Finwood said. “Both teams played pretty good. It was a
well-played game, hard fought by both. The big home run by Cujas
was the difference.”
“He would have enjoyed everything except the fact
that it was about him,” Stiffler said. “But beating Old
Dominion, he would have enjoyed that.”
Both teams wore special jerseys, which were
available by silent auction during the game.
“A lot of excitement,” Cujas said about the
event. “Everyone wanted to come out here and play their best and
make sure we got the win. We were happy to get these new jerseys
with PK5 on them. It was pretty cool.”
the game, members of both teams had their heads shaved at home
plate for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation. More than $4,000 was
raised to fight childhood cancer.
“The big thing was getting this started,” Finwood
said. “I’m hopeful that we can make this an annual event and
grow it into a big deal here on the peninsula to keep on
honoring Paul. We don’t just want it to be a one-year thing. We
want this to be a starting point. There’s so many great things
happening tonight with the St. Baldrick’s head-shaving for
children’s cancer, the jersey auction, all those things are in
his honor. We’re awful happy to be a part of it.”
Several members of the Keyes family were in
attendance. Paul's wife, Trisha, threw out the ceremonial first
pitch. Sons Paul Jr. and Kyle were also present. Daughter
MacKenzie is a freshman softball player at Central Connecticut
and was unable to attend.
The game was played at historic War Memorial
Stadium in Hampton, the home of the Peninsula Pilots of the
Coastal Plain League. Construction of the original stadium began
in 1947. The stadium was initially home to the Class A affiliate
of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Several minor league clubs played there
prior to the arrival of the Pilots in 2000. Former Virginia
third baseman and current Washington National, Ryan Zimmerman,
played for the Pilots in 2003. The stadium looked very good,
with new brick dugouts and brick wall behind home plate as well
as a new press box.
VCU head coach Shawn Stiffler would not get to
sleep in after the thrilling win. He and his wife, Jenn, were
scheduled to be at the hospital early Wednesday morning for the
birth of their second child.
(photos by Phil Stanton)