The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team advanced to the final game of the NCAA East Regional with a 7-3 win over Wilmington University in Rindge, NH. STAC plays one game to defend its regional championship on Sunday at 5:00. Wilmington suffered its first loss of the tournament, setting up a three-team final day of action as the Wildcats will take on host Franklin Pierce at 1:00, with the winner playing the Spartans for the regional crown and a trip to the Division II National Championship in Cary, North Carolina.
Jonathan McGugan, subbing for the injured Rich Cesca, Jr. behind the plate, rapped a pair of doubles and drove in three, while John Bednarek allowed just one run in 5.2 stellar innings, though he did not earn the win.
STAC won its fifth postseason game to improve to 30-18-1, taking the hard road to reaching the 30 victory plateau for the fourth straight season. Wilmington, which was the story of the tournament to date with a pair of late comeback victories, dropped to 35-13 with the loss.
Bednarek, who last started on April 8th against Nyack, gave up the game's first run without the benefit of a hit. Sam Goines reached on a leadoff walk, advanced on a Matt Lopes sacrifice, stole third, and gave the Wildcats the lead on a Christian Adorno RBI ground out.
Both Bednarek and Wilmington starter Rob Gore were sharp early, with neither team registering a hit through three frames. The Spartans started to catch up the second time through the order, with a pair of hits in the fourth before breaking through in the fifth.
Gore flirted with trouble of his own, walking Brandon Fischer to lead off. Rich Baerga sacrificed him to second and, with two down, McGugan game up with his first big hit of the late night, driving a double to left to tie the score.
Meanwhile, STAC's lefty hurler settled into a groove, not allowing his first hit until two were down in the fifth. With the score still deadlocked, Wilmington made some noise in the home sixth. Frank Samulak started the threat with a one-out bunt single. After the second out was recorded, Samulak stole second and Josh Swirchak walked, bringing up cleanup hitter Goines.
That was enough for Coach Scott Muscat, who pulled his starter in favor of Anthony Morris, who rewarded his coach's faith by retiring Goines to end the threat. With the momentum on its side, STAC would unleash the offense in the seventh.
Rich Baerga's one-out bunt single would be the catalyst, as the senior proceeded to steal second. Deven Del Priore's bunt was thrown away by third baseman Mike Annone, putting runners at second and third with one down.
McGugan was the man on the spot again, and his two-run double to center gave the Spartans their first lead at 3-1. Reliever Kyle Menchaca was brought on and wild pitched McGugan to third before walking Joe Pena. Stanley Susana would score McGugan on a fielder's choice and would eventually score on another Annone throwing miscue, opening the margin to 5-1.
Baerga doubled in Fischer in the eighth to widen the gap to 6-1, but there were still to be some anxious moments. The Wildcats had posted game-winning rallies in the eighth inning of each of their two previous games, and Jon Castro and Goines each tallied RBI hits off Morris to cut the gap to 6-3. With the tying run at the plate and two out, Morris set down Adorno to quell the rally.
Fischer banged a two-out RBI triple in the top of the ninth to add an insurance run, but Morris had no trouble in the ninth, with a pair of strikeouts while retiring the side in order to close out the relief win. Morris allowed two runs in 3.1 innings of work to run his mark to 7-2 overall, with Gore dropping to 0-3 with the loss.
Dingcong went 3-for-5 to pace the 10-hit Spartan attack, while Baerga and McGugan had two hits apiece. Seven different Wildcats recorded hits, though none registered more than one.
2015 East Regional Schedule (Double-Elimination Format)
Thursday, May 14
Game 1 - #6 St.Thomas Aquinas 3, #1 Franklin Pierce 0
Game 2 - #2 Stonehill 5, #5 Dowling 2
Game 3 - 7:00 pm - #4 Wilmington 3, #3 Southern New Hampshire 2
Friday, May 15
Game 4 - Franklin Pierce (1L) 1, vs. Dowling 0 (2L) (Dowling Eliminated)
Game 5 - Southern New Hampshire (1L), 6, St. Thomas Aquinas (1L) 3
Game 6 - Wilmington (0L) 4, Stonehill (1L) 3
Saturday, May 16
Game 7 - St. Thomas Aquinas (1L) 8, Stonehill (2L) 0 (Stonehill Eliminated)
Game 8 - Franklin Pierce (1L) 8, Southern New Hampshire (2L) 2 (SNHU Eliminated)
Game 9 - St. Thomas Aquinas (1L) 7, Wilmington 3 (1L)
Sunday, May 17
Game 10 - 1:00 pm - Franklin Pierce (1L) vs. Wilmington (1L) (Loser Eliminated)
Game 11 - 5:00 pm St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Winner Game 10 (Winner Advances)