The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team earned a hard-fought 2-0 East Coast Conference victory over Molloy College as Matt Kostolos tossed a four-hit shutout at Mitchell Park. The Spartans - now 33-11 on the season - improved to #22 in the nation in this week's National Collegiate Baseball Writers' Association poll, while remaining #3 in the East Region in the NCAA weekly slate.
STAC also improved to 14-6 in the ECC Standings, with just one win needed to clinch the regular season championship and top seed in next week's conference tournament. Molloy is now tied with Dowling for second at 12-9 while dropping to 29-17 overall.
Each team trotted its ace out for the series opener, and the pitchers with the two lowest ERAs in the circuit did not disappoint. Kotolos entered the contest with a skinny 1.61 earned run average and a 6-0 record, but Bauer was even better with a 7-0 mark to go with a microscopic 0.93 mark.
Both lived up to their billing, allowing just one hit apiece and each had a runner reach as far as third base through the first five innings of play. STAC posed a threat in the sixth when Michael Morgan led off with a walk, advancing as far as third with two down. A daring steal attempt of home came up empty, however, as Morgan was caught for the final out.
Molloy's best chance came in the home second, when Anthony Alberghina stroked a one-out triple, but an infield pop and a strikeout quelled the Lions' threat. Goose eggs were on the menu as the scoreless deadlock continued through seven frames, with each talented hurler allowing just two hits.
Rich Cesca, Jr., got the Spartans' decisive rally going in the eighth with a leadoff walk. Pinch hitter Juan Adorno sacrificed him to second, and Morgan's single down the third base line brought home the afternoon's first run, with Morgan advancing to second on the throw.
That would prove to be big as the freshman undertook more attempted thievery, this time attempting to score from second on Joseph Pena's grounder to the right side of the infield. On this occasion, the gamble paid off as Morgan tallied a big insurance run.
Kostolos would make that lead hold up, offering Molloy just a single in each of the last two innings with neither runner advancing as far as second base. The senior right-hander required just 97 pitches to improve to 7-0, with the contest lasting a tidy 1:57.
The Spartans, who have won the past three ECC Tournaments, are in search of their third Regular Season Championship in five years, having accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013. They will play a noon double-header on Saturday at Palisades Credit Union Park before the series concludes on Long Island on Sunday. Should the game be necessary in the standings, STAC will make up the final game of the Bridgeport series on Monday at 1:00 pm in Connecticut.
Please note - Saturday's double-header is Senior Day. Pre-game ceremonies begin at 11:15 am in advance of the noon start.
= Steve Balsan, St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Information
- Pboto by Dorice Arden