The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team advanced to the final of the East Regional, falling by an 8-1 count to Southern New Hampshire before rebounding to eliminate top seed New Haven in a 4-0 shutout. The Spartans advance to Monday's finals, needing two wins over Southern New Hampshire to earn their second consecutive East Region championship.
Originally scheduled to be played Saturday night but pushed back to Sunday due to rain, the Spartans dropped their first game of the season in the day's first game against Southern New Hampshire in an 8-1 final.
In the Winner's Bracket game, Tom Blandini put SNHU up with a two-run double in the second and Sam Henrie added a solo homer in the fourth to open a 3-0 lead. Spartans starter Tyler Patane kept his team in the game, allowing just those three runs over five innings. In the top of the fifth, Cris Ruiz drove in Anthony Shkrelja on a fielder's choice, but STAC was prevented from doing further damage, leaving runners at second and third.
That opened the door as the Penmen touched the Spartan bullpen for four in the sixth and another in the seventh to blow the game open, as Andrew Lalonde and Wesley Tobin combined to hold St. Thomas Aquinas to just two hits. That advanced Southern New Hamphire directly to Monday's final needing just one win in two games. Meanwhile, STAC got to watch an elimination game between Franklin Pierce and the University of New Haven, with the Chargers surviving with a 5-4 win to set up a battle with St. Thomas Aquinas in the day's finale.
STAC reliever Chris Pennell drew the start and came through with a superlative effort, striking out 13 in a complete-game shutout 4-0 victory. The Spartans pushed across three runs in the second inning when Michael Morgan drove in two with a bunt single, and Giovanni Dingcong added a two-run hit later in the inning. Morgan's solo homer in the sixth was more than enough for Pennell, who spent the season as STAC's top setup man out of the pen. With the season on the line, the right-hander was in the zone, allowing just five baserunners, scattering four hits and throwing just 28 balls out of 118 pitches for the entire game to improve to 7-1 on the season.
The St. Thomas Aquinas (39-14) victory set up a rematch with SNHU (38-15). Not only is Monday's final a rematch of today's tilt with the Penmen, but it also pits both of last year's finalists against one another. A year ago it was the Spartans in the Winner's Bracket, and they needed just one game to defeat SNHU and advance to the National Championship Tournament.
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 19
Game 7: New Haven 1, Wilmington 0 (Wilmington eliminated)
Game 8: Franklin Pierce 6, LeMoyne 2 (LeMoyne eliminated)
Sunday, May 20
Game 9: Southern New Hampshire 8, St. Thomas Aquinas 1
Game 10: New Haven 5, Franklin Pierce 4 (Franklin Pierce eliminated)
Game 11: St. Thomas Aquinas 4, New Haven 0 (New Haven eliminated)
Monday, May 21
Game 12: Southern New Hampshire vs. St. Thomas Aquinas - 12:00 p.m.
Game 13 (if necessary): St. Thomas Aquinas vs. Southern New Hampshire - 4:00 p.m.