The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team (37-15) takes on host Franklin Pierce University (46-6) in a Winner's Bracket game at 7:00 Saturday night in Rindge, NH. The #3 seeded Spartans captured victories over Molloy and Dowling, while Pierce took a first round bye before a dominant opening win over Felician.
Where Things Stand - At this writing (2:30 pm Saturday), seven games are in the books, with two teams being eliminated. In yesterday's action, STAC started the extended day with a 5-2 win over Molloy, Southern New Hampshire eliminated Molloy by an 11-5 count, Franklin Pierce debuted with a dominant 18-0 win over Felician, and the Spartans closed the long day with a 4-0 win over Dowling.
For the second straight day, SNHU staved off elimination in today's Game 7, ending Felician's season with a 20-5 victory. Another team will get a ticket home after Game 8, when Dowling and Bridgeport each take one loss into in an ECC Finals rematch (game in progress at this writing).
The Match-Up - This is the first meeting of these teams this season, pitting a pair of nationally-ranked teams against one-another. STAC has been ranked as high as #22 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association (NCBWA) poll, while FPU hit the top of the charts, ranked as the #1 team in the nation. These teams took a simliar - and somewhat dubious - path to today's showdown. Each entered its conference tournament as the top seed, and each was eliminated in two straight games.
By virtue of being the top seed in the region, the Ravens carry a definite advantage into tonight's contest. With the region's expansion to seven teams, Pierce not only earned the host designation, but also a first round bye. Thus, FPU is playing its second regional tilt, while STAC engages in its third.
Playoff History - The sense of deja vu will be strong as these teams play a regional rematch of a year ago. Last season, FPU earned the top seed and the right to host, but the sixth-seeded Spartans dealt Pierce a tough 3-0 setback, setting the stage for a quick exit from the hosts. STAC plated all three runs in a third inning rally, while Matt Kostolos was spectacular in a complete-game six-hitter.
The Tournament - The NCAA Baseball Tournament is a double-elimination format, with teams requiring two losses to be eliminated. Seven teams make up this year's East Region, and Molloy and Felician have been eliminated, to be joined by the loser of today's Game 8 between Dowling and Bridgeport. Four teams will remain when STAC faces FPU tonight.
What's Next - If STAC wins Tournament Game 9 on Saturday night, they advance directly to Monday's Regional Finals. Tournament Game 12 will start at 12:00 noon, with the "if necessary" game to follow.
If the Spartans lose Saturday night, they will try to stay alive in Game 11 at 3:30 Sunday, taking on the winner of Game 10 between Southern New Hampshire and the Dowling/Bridgeport winner.
STAC Facts - No strangers to close contests, the Spartans have posted an amazing 18-4 record in games decided by two runs or less. They are also 25-2 in games they are leading or tied after six innings.
Pitching has continued to carry the day for St. Thomas Aquinas. Over the first two games, the Spartans have totaled just 11 hits, enough to bring in nine runs. That has been ample support for a staff that has yielded just two runs and eight hits in 18 frames, with Matt Kostolos and Anthony Morris keeping the bullpen fresh with complete-game victories.
Battle Tested - Including Friday night's victory over Dowling, the Spartans are now 16-8 in the post-season over the past three years against the best teams in the conference and the region. Over that span, they are 9-5 in NCAA Tournament games, and an impressive 9-3 in East Regionals.
What's At Stake - The winners of each of the eight regions will advance to the NCAA Division II Tournament Championships, held annually in Cary, North Carolina.
Thursday, May 19
Game 1: (4) Felician 3, (5) Bridgeport 0
Game 2: (7) Dowling 4, (2) Southern New Hampshire 0
Friday, May 20
Game 3: (3) St. Thomas Aquinas 5, vs. (6) Molloy 2 -- box score
Game 4: Southern NH 11, Molloy 5 (Molloy eliminated)
Game 5: (1) Franklin Pierce 18, Felician 0
Game 6: St. Thomas Aquinas 4, Dowling 0 -- box score
Saturday, May 21
Game 7: Southern NH (1L) 20, Felician (2L) 5 (Felician eliminated)
Game 8: Dowling (1L) vs. Bridgeport (1L) -- 3 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 9: Franklin Pierce (0L) vs. St. Thomas Aquinas (0L) -- 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 22
Game 10: Game 8 Winner (1L) vs. Southern NH (1L) -- Noon (loser eliminated)
Game 11: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 9 Loser -- 3:30 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Monday, May 23
Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner -- Noon
Game 13: Game 12 rematch* -- 40 minutes after conclusion of Game 12
* Game 13 only necessary if Game 11 Winner wins Game 12.