Spartans Clinch ECC Regular Season Title with Split vs. Molloy

Spartans Clinch ECC Regular Season Title with Split vs. Molloy

The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team clinched its third East Coast Conference regular season championship in five years after a double-header split against Molloy College, losing the opener 4-1 before winning game two, 6-4. STAC now stands at 34-12 overall and 15-7 in the ECC, with Molloy at 30-18, 13-10.

Friday saw the series start with a pitchers' duel as the Spartans took a 2-0 nail-biter, and the hurlers were in charge again in Saturday's opener. Deven Del Priore's RBI single in the bottom of the first gave STAC the lead against Molloy's Anthony Catinella, but he and Sam Vincenzo locked up to keep the score at 1-0 through six innings.

After throwing six innings of dominant two-hit ball, Vincenzo ran into trouble in the seventh as the Lions strung together three singles, with Nicholas Gonchar's plating the tying run. STAC had a golden opportunity in the bottom half but came up empty after putting runners at second and third with nobody out, and the contest remained knotted into extra innings.

Molloy finally posted the decisive rally in the top of the 10th, with Kevin Podell's run-scoring single keying a three-run uprising. Shawn Klotsche took the save for Lucas Burton, who improved to 2-1 while Scott Hannon was saddled with his first setback, dropping to 6-1.

St. Thomas Aquinas again struck first in the nightcap, with Del Priore repeating his first-game feat with an RBI single. This Spartans would add two more as an error opened the door for John DeAngelis' two-run single, putting the hosts in a 3-0 lead.

Once again, Molloy's fielding would be costly in the fourth as a pair of infield errors led to three more runs, with Giovanni Dingcong drawing a bases-loaded walk and Brandon Fischer singling in an insurance tally, as the Spartans opened a 6-0 gap.

Anthony Morris was stellar early, throwing shutout ball through four innings before allowing solo markers in the fifth and sixth. With the Spartans just three outs from clinching the top seed, Molloy staged a late rally and caused some anxious moments. Elijah Neerdam's RBI single trimmed the gap to 6-4 and the Lions had the bases loaded with one out against closer George Navadel, who retired the next two to earn his team-record 12th save of the season.

Morris improved to 4-3 with the win, while Molloy's Bobby Kelly fell to 6-2. The Spartans have now won the ECC Regular Season Championship in 2012, '13 and '16, and are in search of their fourth straight conference tournament trophy. They entered the week ranked #22 in the NCBWA National Poll, and their #3 rank in the East Region puts STAC in the driver's seat to earn one of the seven regional bids to the NCAA Division II Tournament, in which they have appeared in each of the past three seasons.

STAC has won two of the three games in the series, which ends on Long Island on Sunday before the regular season comes to a close with a make-up contest at Bridgeport on Monday. The Spartans will be the #1 seed in the ECC Tournament, which will be held at Dowling College from Thursday through Saturday, May 12-14.

- Steve Balsan, St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Information

- Photo by Dorice Arden