The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team remained perfect in the 2018 post-season with a 5-1 victory over LeMoyne College at the NCAA Division II East Regional in Pleasantville, NY. The Spartans, seeded #2 in the region and ranked #18 in the nation, improve to 38-13 overall and remain in the Winner's Bracket of the double-elimination format, where they will face #4 seeded Southern New Hampshire University in Game 9 on Saturday night at 7:00 pm.
With Friday's elimination of Northeast-10 Tournament champ Merrimack, six of the seven original teams remain with two more to be eliminated on Saturday. The winner of the STAC-SNHU game will earn the day off on Sunday, advancing to Monday's championship needing just one victory in two games to advance to the NCAA Division II National Championship in Cary, North Carolina.
St. Thomas Aquinas wasted no time jumping on LeMoyne starter Ryan Murphy, scoring all the runs they would require in the opening inning. With one out, Joseph Pena walked and Giovianni Dingcong singled, and STAC got on the board via a throwing error by catcher Camillo Spinoso. After a strikeout, Bobby Morse, Juan Adorno and Anthony Maisano strung together consecutive hits to stake the Spartans to a quick 5-0 lead.
STAC placed baserunners in each of the first five innings and Murphy escaped a bases-loaded jam in the third before the Spartans pushed across another in the visiting fifth. With two out and nobody on, Maisano and Michael Morgan connected for back-to-back hits, with Maisano scoring to make the total 4-0.
Cepeda, meanwhile, continued his recent dominance which has seen him post a 6-0 record over his last seven starts before Friday, allowing just eight runs and 43 hits with a 1.44 ERA while striking out 51 and walking only five over 50.0 incredible innings. That streak only extended as the junior right-hander was perfect through the first five innings, retiring all 15 Dolphin batters faced while recording four strikeouts.
Still, the contest was well within reach entering the home sixth and Cepeda surrendered his first batter, hitting Nick Spinella with a pitch to lead off. That was followed by what may have been the turning point of the game, as Brian O'Mara hit what appeared to be a two-run homer to give LeMoyne momentum. On the play, however, O'Mara overran Spinella on the basepaths, with only one run counting and an out recorded, making the score 4-1. Brian Cox singled with two out and advanced on a wild pitch but that was to be the Dolphins' last gasp, as Cepeda rallied to retire the final 10 batters.
An insurance run was added in the top of the seventh when the bottom of the order came through again, with Bobby Morse hitting a ground rule double and scoring two batters later on an RBI double from Maisano, who capped an impressive 4-for-4 night to lead the 14-hit attack. Cepeda threw a tidy 96 pitches in the complete game victory, striking out eight without a walk to improve to 8-3. Morse, Dingcong, and Adorno contributed multi-hit efforts for STAC, and Murphy allowed two earned runs and 11 hits in five innings to fall to 7-4 for the Dolphins.
Saturday's action opens at 11:00 am as top-seeded New Haven squares off with Wilmington in a Loser's Bracket game, followed at 3:00 by another elimination contest between Franklin Pierce and LeMoyne. The loser of the day's finale between STAC and SNHU will return on Saturday at 4:00 to face the winner of Game 10.
2018 NCAA Division II East Region Championship
Thursday, May 17
Game 1: #3 Le Moyne 3, #6 Merrimack 2
Game 2: #2 St. Thomas Aquinas 8, #7 Wilmington 3
Game 3: #4 Southern New Hampshire 7, #5 Franklin Pierce 2
Friday, May 18
Game 4: Wilmington 10, Merrimack 5 (Merrimack eliminated)
Game 5: Southern New Hampshire 7, #1 New Haven 1
Game 6: St. Thomas Aquinas 5, LeMoyne 1
Saturday, May 20
Game 7: Wilmington vs. New Haven - 11:00 am (loser is eliminated)
Game 8: LeMoyne vs. Franklin Pierce - 3:00 pm (loser is eliminated)
Game 9: Southern New Hampshire vs. St. Thomas Aquinas - 7:00 pm
Sunday, May 21
Game 10: Game 8 Winner vs. Game 7 Winner - 12:00 pm (loser is eliminated)
Game 11: Game 10 Winner vs. Game 9 Loser - 4:00 pm (loser is eliminated)
Monday, May 22
Game 12: Game 9 Winner vs. Game 11 Winner - 12:00 pm
Game 13: Game 12 Winner vs. Game 12 Loser - 4:00 pm (if necessary)