The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team captured a 12-8 victory over defending National Champions West Chester University in a battle of nationally-ranked teams, 12-8, at Palisades Credit Union Park. The Spartans, ranked #23 in last week's National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA) poll have now won five straight and 16-of-18 overall to improve to 29-9, while the #17 ranked WCU squad fell to 24-12 overall. This was the second meeting of the teams this season, with STAC also winning the previous tilt by a 12-5 count on February 25 in Dinwiddie, Virginia.
Several highlights punctuated the evening for St. Thomas Aquinas, with Joseph Pena becoming the program's All-Time Career Hits leader, Giovanni Dingcong adding to his conference leading home run total with two deep drives, a stellar start from Chris Pennell and a rare 10-out save by closer Angelo Baez.
STAC jumped on top quickly when Dingcong doubled home Nicholas Lucchese for the game's first run in the opening inning. Pennell allowed just a pair of singles over the first three innings, and the Spartans exploded for five runs in the bottom of the third. Dingcong's two-run blast two deep right field, Juan Adorno's RBI double, and Bobby Morse's two-RBI base hit staked their team to a 6-0 lead. Shane Dressler's fourth-inning RBI single got the Golden Rams on the board, but Adorno and Morse each drove in runs in the fifth to widen the gap to 8-1.
Pennell yielded after five strong innings but STAC's bullpen was immediately put to the test. All five batters to face reliever Christian Allegretti reached base on four hits and a walk, and John Rodriguez registered a pair of outs but WCU catcher Bill Ford hit a two-run shot to close the gap to 8-7, and with two on and two out, East Coast Conference saves leader Angelo Baez came in to retire the side with no further damage.
In the bottom half, the Spartans answered quickly with Pena's run-scoring single providing an insurance tally. The his was also number 264 of Pena's career with the Spartans, placing him on top of the program's All-Time Career Hits list. Pena then stole second and moved to third on a wild pitch, scoring on a Lucchese sac fly, with Dingcong driving an opposite-field blast deep to right-center to make the score 11-7. Kyle Lagrutta added an RBI single in the following inning and Baez was in control until showing some signs of fatigue in the ninth, allowing a run on three hits before nailing down his ninth save of the season and fourth in a span of five days. Pennell took the victory to improve to 6-1 on the season while Dingcong led the 13-hit attack with three hits and four runs batted in.
The Spartans will now be off until returning to East Coast Conference competition for a four-game weekend series against Mercy College. STAC will travel for games on Friday and Sunday, while hosting the middle games in a Saturday double-header starting at noon at Palisades Credit Union Park.