CLARION, Pa. — The University of Rio Grande men’s rugby team wrapped up its Spring 7’s season on Saturday by posting a 4-1 record in the Allegheny Rugby Union Championships hosted by Clarion University.
After knocking off Baldwin-Wallace University in their opening contest, the RedStorm were bounced from the Championship bracket with a tough loss to John Carroll University.
Wins over Frostburg (Md.) State, Susquehanna (Pa.) and Robert Morris (Pa.) followed, giving interim head coach Adrian Pilkington’s club the championship of the Cup Bracket and fifth place overall.
“I couldn’t be prouder of my players,” Pilkington said. “To be able to stick together and overcome everything that they’ve been through — and do what they did today — is unbelievable. To have achieved what they have in such a short space of time and their attitude toward wanting to succeed is a credit to them.”
In the first game of the tourney, Rio found itself facing the same opponent that it opened the Fall 15’s season against. The second meeting with Baldwin-Wallace proved to be a much tighter affair.
Freshman Devon Scriber (Colorado Springs, CO) gave the RedStorm a 5-0 advantage just one minute into the contest, but the Yellowjackets answered shortly thereafter for a 7-5.
Freshman Patrick McDonald (Madison, WI) and freshman Lazarus Ratuniyaravu (Everett, WA) tacked on successful tries to give Rio a 17-7 lead at the intermission.
Baldwin-Wallace countered again to close the gap to 17-14 early in the half, but a pair of successful ties by freshman Che Spiotti (Charlotte, NC) allowed the RedStorm to pull away for good in an eventual 31-19 victory.
The second round matchup against one of the tourney favorites, John Carroll, proved to be a difficult encounter.
The RedStorm fell behind quickly, as the Blue Streaks exploit the wide channels of the Rio defense and take a 10-0 lead.
A brilliantly converted try by Spiotti and the subsequent convert sliced the deficit to 10-7, but another JC score just before the break made it 15-7 at halftime.
Spiotti found the endzone again early in the second half to get Rio within 15-14, but that’s as close as the Redstorm would get.
The Blue Streaks added a pair of successes in the closing moments to secure a 27-14 victory and send the RedStorm out of the hunt for the overall championship and into the Cup Bracket.
McDonald opened the scoring in the matchup with Frostburg State and some brilliant attacking and handling allowed Spiotti to extend the Rio lead to 14-0 at the break.
Spiotti added another second half score before a dazzling piece of handling and subsequent offload set up freshman Ryan Troyer (Kotzebuke, AK) for his first-ever score in rugby to finish off a 28-0 rout.
In the semifinal round of the Cup Bracket against Susquehanna, McDonald used his tremendous leg drive in the first minute of the match to break free for the first successful try and a 5-0 lead.
Unfortunately, during the sequence of events that produced McDonald’s try, a Susquehanna player was knocked unconscious.
While the game was delayed to attend to the injured player, Susquehanna made the decision to forfeit the contest due to mounting injuries over the course of the afternoon.
The final game of the day, for the championship of the Cup Bracket, came against Robert Morris — an opponent the RedStorm had faced and beaten during the Fall campaign.
Spiotti danced his way through the Eagle defense in the game’s first minute for a successful try and McDonald went over again moments later to give Rio a 14-0 lead.
Sophomore Finn Tomlin (Georgetown, OH) had a successful try of his own to make it 21-0 at the intermission and the rout continued into the second stanza.
McDonald had a scoop and score to begin the half and then tallied another try to push the lead to 33-0, before tries by freshman Christopher Gates (Charlotte, NC) and Ratuniyaravu closed out a 43-0 triumph.
“The mere fact that we got to play in this tournament made them winners in my eyes, but they way they played in all of their tournaments showed how good these guys could be going forward,” Pilkington said. “I’d like to offer a special thanks to our three Wrestling converts — Owenn Meyer, Ryan Troyer and Kiah Smith — and thank them for giving our game a chance. I hope they enjoyed the experience and thanks to their coach, Jason (Schweer) for allowing them to join us.”
“I also want to thank Tito (Alberto Gonzalez), our Spanish soccer convert, for all of his hard work and dedication toward learning our sport in such a short period of time. Thanks to Scott (Morrissey), our men’s soccer coach for allowing him to be part of our squad,” added Pilkington.
Pilkington also added thanks to the rugby team members who went through both ends of the program’s inaugural campaign.
“I’m excited to see where the future takes these guys now that they’ve experienced a full season,” he said. “They have shown that, when faced with adversity, they can rise above it and go above and beyond what’s expected of them. It’s been a pleasure to have been a part of this group and season and who knows what the future holds. For now, all I can say is what a first season it has been for Rio Rugby and long may it continue.”
Randy Payton is the Sports Information Director for the University of Rio Grande.