The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team earned the East Coast Conference Regular Season Championship in a sweep at Mercy College, with sophomore Chris Cepeda throwing a no-hitter in the nightcap. The Spartans are now 36-13 overall and 19-5 in the ECC, clinching the top seed in next weekend's Conference Tournament, with Mercy falling to 10-31, 4-20.
During their current nine-game winning streak, the Spartans have bashed out an incredible 93 runs, and they remain one of the hottest teams in the nation with a 27-4 record over their last 31 games.
Entering the day needing just one win to clinch their fourth regular-season title in the last six seasons, the Spartans jumped out quickly with three in the opening inning. Giovanni Dingcong and Mike Morgan each singled in runs in the five-hit inning, and STAC blew the game open with four in the 3rd and five more in the 4th.
A pair of errors by Mercy opened the door in the 3rd, with Chris Ruiz capitalizing on a two-run double and Joey Pena driving in another to open a 7-0 cushion. The lead grew to a dozen in the following frame, as Morgan and Greg Dawber recorded run-scoring hits, and Nick Lucchese bringing in two more on a double.
Anthony Morris had more than enough support to run his record to a perfect 8-0, allowing just a pair of unearned runs on five hits over his 6.0 innings of work. Deven Del Priore knocked in a run and Dawber tripled in three more in the 7th, as the 19-hit outburst resulted in a 16-6 final, with Brian Helft and Reyan Mustafoski closing things out with scoreless relief work. Pena had three hits and Dawber drove in four as STAC continued a prolific scoring string of 63 runs over the first four games of the week.
The victory was also the 23rd in his career for Morris, with the senior establishing a new Spartans career mark for wins.
After struggling early in the season, Cepeda had settled in of late, with a 2-0 record and a 1.44 ERA over his previous three starts. None were better, however, than his performance on Saturday afternoon.
Last season's ECC Rookie of the Year while with Dowling, the sophomore transfer hit the second batter of the game, Joseph Sadallah, with a pitch. That was the only baserunner he would allow over the first three innings, with his teammates putting up solo runs in the 2nd and 3rd innings.
Dawber stayed hot with an RBI hit for the game's first run, and an unearned tally in the next inning put the visitors up by a pair. Sadallah was hit by a pitch again leading off the 4th, but those ended up being the only two baserunners allowed in Cepeda's masterful performance.
Bobby Morse and Anthony Shkrelja had back-to-back run-scoring hits in the 5th to provide the insurance runs, and Cepeda did the rest, retiring the last 12 batters he faced, striking out four in the seven-inning no-no to improve to 6-2 on the year.
The regular season wraps up on Sunday, May 7, when the Spartans host Mercy for a 12:00 noon start (note time change), with Senior Day festivities starting at approximately 11:30. From there, STAC will carry the top seed into the ECC Baseball Tournament, which begins Thursday at Mitchel Field Complex hosted by Molloy College. LIU Post has clinched the #2 seed, with Bridgeport, Molloy, and Queens all vying for the final two slots.