The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team scored three runs in the 12th inning to earn a 6-5 victory against UC San Diego in the opener of the 2017 Division II Baseball Championship in Grand Prairie, Texas. STAC now stands at 43-15 overall, with UCSD 40-18. Giovanni Dingcong drew the decisive walk as the Spartans scored all three runs without the benefit of a hit.
On the strength of their first triumph as the Championship level, St. Thomas Aquinas will now play in the Winner's Bracket on Tuesday at 8:00 in Tournament Game 8 against Colorado Mesa. UCSD advances in the Loser's Bracket to Game 7 against Quincy, at 4:00. Tuesday's game is a rematch of the 2014 tilt which saw Colorado Mesa top STAC, 5-4 in 10 innings, en route to advancing to the National Championship final game.
If the Spartans lose Game 8, they will play Wednesday at 8:00 against Delta State in an elimination game; if they win Game 8, they will play Thursday at 4:00 pm.
Cal San Diego broke on top first in the visiting 3rd inning, with Nick Kitzman reached on a two-out single and came around two batters later when Jack Larsen turned on a Frankie Moscatiello pitch for a two-out, two-run homer, giving the Tritons the lead.
STAC answered quickly in the bottom half off Troy Cruz, starting the rally with two out and nobody on. Nick Lucchese and Anthony Skrelja recorded consecutive singles, and Giovanni Dingcong took a 1-2 offering to the opposite field, tucking it inside the right field foul pole for his 19th of the season, giving the Spartans a 3-2 advantage.
UCSD was prevented from tying the game in the 4th when Anthony Shkrelja's perfect throw to the plate gunned down Alex Eliopolous at the plate, as he tried to score on a single. In the top of the 5th, Kitzman was hit by a pitch with one down, advanced on a wild pitch, and scored on a two-out Larsen single to tie the game at 3-3.
Moscatiello and Cruz each kept the score there through seven solid innings before yielding to their bullpens. Chris Pennell and Chad Sinko fought through the next two innings for STAC, with Kyle Lucke putting up a pair of zeroes from the Tritons' pen, sending the game to extra frames.
After stranding a runner at third with one down in the ninth, Larsen got UCSD in business again with a leadoff double in the 10th off Spartans closer George Navadel. A passed ball put the potential go-ahead run on third, but Brandon Shirley struck out before Tyler Durnia was issued an intentional walk. With the infield playing halfway, Eliopolous' grounder to second was grabbed by Nick Lucchese, who tagged Durnia and threw to first to complete the inning-ending double play.
Continuing the theme of the day, UCSD broke the deadlock off Anthony Morris in the 12th after two were out and nobody on. Larsen got the rally going with his fourth hit of the day, a double to right-center. Shirley followed with a soft single to center, giving the Tritons a 4-3 lead. Durna and Eliopolous followed with singles to tack on an insurance run.
Not surprisingly, the Spartans were far from finished as Mike Morgan worked out a leadoff walk to start the bottom half, and with one out, Dawber's short chopper was thrown away by reliever Blaine Jarvis, putting runners at second and third with one down. The first pitch to Cris Ruiz skipped to the backstop, cutting the gap to 5-4 and putting the tying run at third with one down.
Ruiz battled out a walk, putting runners at the corners and chasing Blaine in favor of Erik Amundson to face the East Coast Conference's leading hitter, Joseph Pena, who promptly drew a walk to load the bases, putting the winning runs in scoring position.
Four pitches later, Lucchese drew a four-pitch walk, bringing home pinch runner Juan Adorno to tie the score, and bringing Jonah DiPoto from the UCSD pen. Anthony Shkrelja went down swinging, but Dingcong worked the count full before forcing home the winning run on the payoff pitch, for his fourth RBI of the game, touching off a Spartans celebration.
Morris improved to 10-1 on the season with the improbable win, as Jarvis was tagged with the loss. Lucchese contributed to the offense with a pair of hits for the Spartans, who have now won five straight post-season games and 16-of-18 overall.
2017 NCAA Division II Baseball Championship
hosted by Angelo State University
Airhogs Stadium - Grand Prairie, Texas
May 27- June 3, 2017
= Regional Champions =
East - St. Thomas Aquinas (43-15)
Atlantic - West Chester (PA) (42-11)
South Central - Colorado Mesa (49-10)
Central - Lindenwood (MO) (40-19) (1 Loss)
Midwest - Quincy (IL) (37-22) (1 Loss)
South - Delta State (MS) (45-12) (1 Loss)
West - Cal San Diego (40-18) (1 Loss)
Southeast - North Georgia (46-12) (2L)
Saturday, May 27
Game 1 - West Chester 9, North Georgia, 4
Game 2 - Lindenwood 4, Delta State, 0
Sunday, May 28
Game 3 - St. Thomas Aquinas 6, UC San Diego 5 (12 innings)
Game 4 - Colorado Mesa 10, Quincy 3
Monday, May 29
Game 5 - Delta State 4, North Georgia 0 (N. Georgia eliminated)
Game 6 - West Chester 5, Lindenwood 2
Tuesday, May 30
Game 7 - UC San Diego vs. Quincy, (loser eliminated) 4:00
Game 8 - St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Colorado Mesa, 8:00
Wednesday, May 31 (crossover)
Game 9 - Lindenwood vs. Winner Game 7, (loser eliminated) 4:00
Game 10 - Loser Game 8 vs. Delta State, (loser eliminated) 8:00
Thursday, June 1
Game 11 - Winner Game 8 vs. Winner Game 9, 4:00
Game 12 - West Chester vs. Winner Game 10, 8:00
Additional schedule to be determined by results of these games, with the National Championship contest scheduled for June 3.