The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team rallied late and held off a feisty Mercy College squad for a 4-3 East Coast Conference victory in 10 innings at Mercy Field. The #22 ranked Spartans took three of four in the weekend series to improve to 32-10 overall and 17-3 in conference play, with Mercy falling to 20-25, 9-11. With one weekend to play in the regular season, the playoff picture comes more into focus, however there is still much to be determined.
STAC currently remains atop the ECC standings with only a four-game series against LIU Post remaining. The Spartans need just one victory to clinch the Regular Season Championship but they cannot back into that slot, as a Post sweep would propel idle Molloy to the top seed. Mercy is currently one game ahead of Bridgeport for the fourth and final tourney spot, with the two teams squaring off this weekend.
Sunday's series finale emerged as a pitchers duel between STAC's Tyler Patane and Mercy's Jack Kelly, with a scoreless deadlock heading into the bottom of the fifth. Scott Kelnhofer put the Mavericks on top with a two-out RBI single, and that lone tally held up through seven innings of play before the Spartans finally broke through.
With one down, Joseph Pena walked and advanced to third on Giovanni Dingcong's double. Anthony Shkrelja followed with a single, with a fielding error allowing the go-ahead run to score for a 2-1 lead. With Shkrelja on second and one out, Patane helped his cause with a fly out to center, advancing Shkrelja to third. That proved big as a wild pitch brought that run home to make the tally 3-1.
That lead seemed comfortable into the home ninth with ECC save leader Angelo Baez taking the hill for the first time in the series, promptly striking out the first two batters. Down to their last out, the Mavericks mounted a comeback, with Nicholas Hagarty and Zak Kain keeping things alive with back-to-back singles and Scott Kelnhofer walking to load the bases. Joseph Sadallah knotted the game with a two run single and STAC escaped defeat when John Mooradian's liner was tracked down by Dingcong in right field for an inning-ending out.
St. Thomas Aquinas took little time to answer, with Dingcong drawing a four-pitch walk off reliever Matteo Finocci, who was then pulled in favor of Anthony Amato. Shkrelja came through again with a big double, and once again an error proved costly, allowing Dingcong to score the go-ahead run. Baez' struggles continued into the tenth, with a walk and a single putting two on with one down. That brought Chris Pennell from the Spartans pen who struck out Adonis Garcia for the second out but hit a batter to load the bases before finally inducing a game-ending ground ball.
Baez got the benefit of his team's resilience, improving to 4-1 with the win while Pennell picked up his first save and Finocchi fell to 2-3 for the hosts. Shkrelja and Dingcong had two hits each to pace the STAC offense.
The four-game series against LIU Post begins on Friday at 3:30 pm at Palisades Credit Union Park. It will then shift to Long Island for a Saturday double-header before returning to close out the regular season at Palisades Credit Union Park on Sunday. Not only will Senior Day festivities commence approximately 30 minutes prior to the 2:00 pm start, but the St. Thomas Aquinas College community will also be honored as part of Faculty and Staff Appreciation Day.