The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team scored three in the seventh to rally to a 4-1 win over the University of New Haven at the NCAA Division II Tournament in Manchester, New Hampshire. Chris Cepeda allowed just one unearned run in 7.1 innings and Greg Dawber had three hits as STAC set a new single-season wins mark in improving to 40-15, with New Haven falling to 31-12.
St. Thomas Aquinas remains in the Winner's Bracket of the double-elimination format and will play host and top seed Southern New Hampshire University in tournament Game Nine at 7:00 pm Saturday night. SNHU won its first tournament game earlier in the day, dominating LIU Post in a 15-3 victory. The winner of tomorrow night's game will advance to Monday's regional final, needing just one win to advance to the NCAA Elite Eight in Cary, North Carolina.
As they did in Thursday's opening win against Southern Connecticut, the Spartans fell behind in the opening frame. Matt Chamberlain opened the bottom of the 1st with an infield hit, and Tom Walraven's bunt was misplayed by Cepeda, putting runners at second and third with nobody out. Robert Petrillo followed with a sac fly to put New Haven on the board, but Cepeda escaped further damage and worked out of trouble in the 2nd before settling in.
Charger starter David Palmer was strong early, allowing just one hit through the first five innings, with STAC's best chance coming in the top of the 2nd went Anthony Shkrelja was gunned down at home trying to score on Greg Dawber's two out single.
Palmer, who entered the game with an 8-0 record and 1.40 ERA for the Northeast-10 champs, looked untouchable until the 6th, when the Spartans started to work the right-hander, loading the bases with one out but failing to get on the board after strikeouts by Giovanni Dingcong and Mike Morgan.
Cepeda has been brilliant in his own right of late, with a 3-1 record and 1.04 ERA over his last five starts, which included a tough 1-0 loss to LIU Post in last week's East Coast Conference tournament. He plowed through the middle innings, retiring New Haven on just six pitches in the bottom of the 6th, letting his offense get back to work.
Dawber's second hit of the game was a leadoff single, and he advanced on Anthony Maisano's pinch-hit bunt. Cris Ruiz finally provided Cepeda with his first run of post-season support in 15.1 innings with a double down the right field line, tying the score at 1-1. After a Pena strikeout, the Spartans took the lead on a controversial play.
Nick Lucchese's dying liner to center was ruled a hit by one umpire and a trap by the other, with a conference determining that, as replay appeared to confirm, the ball did drop, bringing home Ruiz with a 2-1 lead, bringing Palmer's night to an end after 114 pitches.
Reliever Brandan LaManna's errant pickoff through moved Lucchese to second and he stole third, which proved to be big when Mark Shkrelja's RBI single provided insurance and a 3-1 lead.
New Haven threatened in the 8th when Chamberlain walked with one out and Walraven followed with a single, bringing Cepeda's night to an end after 7.1 masterful innings of four-hit ball. Closer George Navadel came from the STAC bullpen and needed just two pitches to extinguish the fire, as Petrillo's grounder clipped Navadel's glove and rolled right to Pena at shortstop, who easily completed the inning-ending double-play.
STAC added another big run off Kellen Croce in the 9th, when Joey Pena drew a one-out walk and scored on Mark Shkrelja's triple to right to make the tally 4-1. Navadel shook off a leadoff walk by rolling a double-play ball in the 9th en route to earning his 8th save of the season, with Cepeda improving to 7-3. Dawber had a 3-for-3 night at the plate, Mark Shkrelja went 2-for-2 after entering as a pinch-runner, and Lucchese added two hits for St. Thomas Aquinas.
2017 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship - East Regional
hosted by Southern New Hampshire University
Penmen Field, Manchester, N.H.
May 18-22, 2017
Thursday, May 18
Game 1: (3) St. Thomas Aquinas 8, (6) Southern Connecticut 3
Game 2: (2) New Haven 5, (7) Dominican (N.Y.) 2
Game 3: (4) LIU Post 4, (5) Felician 2
Friday, May 19
Game 4: Dominican (N.Y.) 5 vs. Southern Connecticut 3 (Southern Connecticut eliminated)
Game 5: (1) Southern New Hampshire 15, LIU Post 3
Game 6: St. Thomas Aquinas 4, New Haven 1
Saturday, May 20
Game 7: Dominican (N.Y.) vs. LIU Post - 11 a.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 8: New Haven vs. Felician -- 3 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 9: Southern New Hampshire vs. St. Thomas Aquinas -- 7 p.m.
Sunday, May 21
Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner -- 12 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Game 11: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 9 Loser -- 3:30 p.m. (loser eliminated)
Monday, May 22
Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner -- 12 p.m.
Game 13: Game 12 rematch* -- 40 minutes after conclusion of Game 12
* Game 13 only necessary if Game 11 Winner wins Game 12