Preview: STAC Squares Off with Top Seed SNHU in Winner's Bracket Clash Saturday Night

Preview: STAC Squares Off with Top Seed SNHU in Winner's Bracket Clash Saturday Night

The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team remains in the Winner's Bracket of the NCAA Tournament and faces top-seeded host Southern New Hampshire University on Saturday night at 7:00 pm.

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The Tournament -  Six teams remain from the original field of seven, with Southern Connecticut State being the first eliminated on Friday afternoon. Two more will be sent home in Loser's Bracket contests on Saturday, with the eventual Regional Champion advancing to the Elite Eight in Grand Prairie, Texas, after being decided on Monday.

The Schedule - Tournament Game Seven is an elimination contest between #7 Dominican and #4 LIU Post at 11:00 am Saturday, with the loser's season coming to an end. Then, at 3:00, #2 New Haven and #5 Felician each carry a loss into another elimination contest. The #3 Spartans are back in action against top-seed Southern New Hampshire in the nightcap at 7:00 pm. STAC is 2-0 and playing its third game of the weekend while SNHU, by virtue of being the top seed in the seven-team format, is playing only its second.

Four teams will remain after Saturday's action, with the victor in Saturday's showdown advancing to the finals on Monday, needing just one win (with their opponents needing two) to capture the regional title.

St. Thomas Aquinas - The Spartans (40-15) shook off an early deficit for the second straight night to claim a 4-1 victory over New Haven (31-12). Chris Cepeda was outstanding, allowing just one unearned run on four hits over 7.1 innings, while Cris Ruiz and Nick Lucchese had big RBI hits in the decisive three-run 7th inning rally.

This season, the Spartans won their 4th ECC Regular Season Championship in the past six seasons (2012, 2013, 2016); they have captured three ECC Tournament titles (2013, 2014, 2015); and are making their 5th straight NCAA Tournament appearance, winning the East Regional Championship in 2014.

Since the 2013 season, the Spartans have a 23-15 overall post-season record (12-6 ECC; and 11-9 NCAAs). That total includes an impressive 14-6 mark in games when facing elimination.

Southern New Hampshire - The Penmen (42-9), have been the team to beat throughout the season, claiming the top spot in every regional ranking in 2017. Zach Goldstein, who went 3-for-6 in Friday's 15-3 blowout of LIU Post, has been the spark at the top of the order with a team-leading .328 average and 20 stolen bases. Ryan Sullivan has provided the power numbers with 11 homers and 44 RBI, while Alex Person is the likely mound opponent, pacing SNHU with a perfect 7-0 record to go with his 3.66 ERA.

Like the Spartans, Southern New Hampshire finished first in the Northeast-10 in the regular season before being upset in their conference tournament. They are looking to erase that with their first Regional Championship since the 2012 season.

The Season Series - Series Tied, 1-1

If the double-header meeting of these squads on March 18 is any indication, fans can expect a close battle as both ends of the split were decided by a single run. Frankie Moscatiello was dominant in the 1-0 opening win for STAC, allowing just two hits while fanning 14, as Giovanni Dingcong knocked in the game's only tally.

SNHU rebounded in the nightcap, rallying from an early 4-0 deficit to capture a 7-6 decision. Caleb Potter had a double and three RBI to lead the Penmen, while Person allowed five runs - but just one earned - on eight hits in 6.1 innings of work.

NCAA Tournament History - SNHU leads series, 2-1

With both teams becoming perennial NCAA Tourney fixtures, this will actually be the fourth straight season that these programs have squared off in Regional play. In 2014, STAC held off elimination to stun the host Penmen with a 6-1 victory. In that game, Spartan starter Rob Frank withstood a 40-minute rain delay and threw 142 pitches to earn the win, which helped propel his team to the East Regional Championship.

Southern New Hampshire returned the favor in 2015 with a 6-3 win in Rindge, NH, as Person allowed three runs on eight hits in eight innings to earn the win. Despite being relegated to the Loser's Bracket, STAC rallied to reach the regional final before falling to champ Wilmington.

Last season, SNHU dealt the final blow to STAC's season with a 10-4 victory, leaving the Spartans just one game shy of their third straight finals appearance. Mitchell Powers entered the game in relief in the 1st inning and worked 9.0 frames to earn the win. SNHU was defeated by Franklin Pierce in the final.

What's Next - The winner of the East Regional advances to the NCAA Elite Eight in Cary, NC. Full regional schedule as follows:

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 6St. Thomas Aquinas 4, New Haven 1

Saturday, May 20
Game 7: LIU Post 9, Dominican 5 (Dominican eliminated) 
Game 8: New Haven 1 vs. Felician 7 (New Haven eliminated) 
Game 9: Southern New Hampshire vs. St. Thomas Aquinas -- 7 p.m. 

Sunday, May 21
Game 10: Game 8 Felician vs. LIU Post -- 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