HARWICH, MA – #6 Saint Joseph's College (31-13) topped #7 Salem State University (25-15), 7-5, in an NCAA Division III Baseball New England Regional losers' bracket contest at Whitehouse Field on Thursday afternoon. Senior second baseman Brandon Chase (Naples, Maine) went 2-4 with a three-run inside-the-park homer in the victory.
With the victory, Saint Joseph's stays alive in the double-elimination tournament and will face #4 Western New England University, which suffered a 6-5 setback at the hands of top-seeded University of Southern Maine in Thursday's third game, at 9:30 AM on Friday. The meeting will mark the fourth-consecutive year in which these two teams have met in NCAA Tournament play. Most recently, the Golden Bears ended the Monks' campaign with a 4-0 triumph in the New England Regional last spring. Western New England sent Saint Joseph's to the losers' bracket with a 4-1 win en route to winning the 2011 New England Regional and the Monks effectively ended the Golden Bears' 2010 campaign with a 3-2 losers' bracket victory.
The loss signals the end of the 2013 campaign for the Vikings, who were making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2006 and fourth in the history of the program.
After suffering a hard-luck loss to #3 Endicott College in the opener on Wednesday, the Monks saw things break their way early in today's triumph over the Vikings.
In the bottom of the first, Saint Joseph's scored twice off one hit with the help of a Salem State miscue and some situational hitting. Freshman shortstop Zach Graham (Marlborough, Mass.) led off the frame with a single to left and junior right fielder Alex Lorenc (Nanuet, N.Y.), attempting to drop down a sac bunt, reached on an infield error. The runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch and Graham scored the game's first run when sophomore catcher Joe Coyne (Duxbury, Mass.) lofted a fly to right field. Lorenc, who also tagged up and moved to third on Coyne's sac fly, promptly scored when the following batter, senior first baseman Mike Pratt (Dartmouth, Mass.), belted a fly ball to center.
The 2-0 cushion remained until the top of the fourth, as Saint Joseph's senior righthander Chad Rafferty (Keene, N.H.) cruised through the first three innings, allowing three hits while fanning six batters to help the Royal Blue maintain the two-run advantage.
The shutout effort hit a snag in the fourth however, as the Vikings managed to push across a run to cut their deficit in half. Junior designated hitter Brett Cahill (Gloucester, Mass.) opened the frame by reaching on a rare catcher's interference call and came all the way around to score on a Matt Burgess (Kingston, Mass.) double to deep left field.
After the first inning, Salem State freshman pitcher Sean Buckland (Lynn, Mass.) settled in and allowed just one hit over the next three innings, a stretch during which the first-year southpaw tossed a pair of 1-2-3 frames. The impressive effort allowed the Vikings to knot the game at two-apiece in the top of the fifth, when sophomore shortstop Ryan Beliveau (Lynn, Mass.) walked and later scored on a Cahill single to left.
Unfazed, the Monks showed some life offensively and went on to plate two runs off three hits and a Salem State error – all with two out - in the bottom of the fifth. Following two quick outs, senior center fielder Sam Butts (Saco, Maine) drilled a two-strike offering to deep right field for a double and, after moving to third on a balk, scored when Graham reached with an infield hit. Aware of Graham's speed at first, Buckland attempted a pick-off move that sailed over Burgess's head, an error that allowed the rookie infielder to scamper all the way to third base. The miscue proved costly, as the next SJC batter – Lorenc – lined a single to left to send Graham home and lift the Monks to a 4-2 lead.
Two quick half innings followed, but the Vikings struck with a single run in the top of the seventh to cut the Monks' advantage down to 4-3. Beliveau opened the frame with a single to left and, after moving into scoring position on a Steve Buitkus (Reading, Mass.) sac bunt, later scored when Kevin Salines (Melrose, Mass.) blooped a single that landed on the left field line.
Chase belted perhaps the biggest hit of his baseball career when he belted an inside-the-park homer with two out in the bottom of the eighth. With one down, Lorenc singled to left and stole second and Pratt was intentionally walked to create a force-out scenario. After Nic Lops (South Portland, Maine/Cheverus) flew out to left, Chase strode to the plate and drilled a sinking line drive to left-center. Freshman Richard Fecteau (Newbury, Mass.), who had just moved from third base to center field at the beginning of the inning, made an ill-advised diving attempt on the play and narrowly missed the ball, which rolled all the way to the fence, allowing Lorenc and Pratt to score and Chase to sprint all the way home to make it a 7-3 game.
As it played out, the runs proved to be necessary as the Vikings rallied with a pair of runs off three hits and a Saint Joseph's error in the top of the ninth. Buitkus and Salines opened the inning with a pair of well-placed infield singles, hits that resulted in Head Coach Will Sanborn '86 removing reliever Dan Meeken (Marshfield, Mass.) – who entered the game in the eighth - in favor of sophomore Alex Valenti (Lawrence, Mass.). After an infield groundout, Buitkus scored on a fielding error and Kyle McElroy (Newburyport, Mass.) tapped home plate on a Fecteau double to left to cut the Monks' lead down to 7-5. But Valenti hunkered down while facing Burgess, as the second-year righty induced a comebacker that he ran to first himself for the final out of the game.
Rafferty collected the winning decision and improves to 7-2 on the year after allowing three runs (two earned) off seven hits and three walks with eight K's over seven solid frames. Meeken allowed a pair of unearned runs off three hits and struck out one in 1.1 innings of relief and Valenti yielded a hit in 0.2 innings of relief to notch his first save of the season and fourth of his career.
Buckland (3-2) was tagged with the setback for the Vikings as he permitted five runs (three earned) on seven hits in 7.1 frames of work. Senior Andrew Guido (Peabody, Mass.) allowed two runs off a hit and a pair of free passes in 0.2 innings of relief for Salem State.
For the Monks, Chase was 2-4 with a run, a double, a homer and three RBI while Graham went 2-4 with two runs and an RBI and Lorenc added two hits in three trips with a pair of runs and an RBI in the victory.
Buitkus, Salines and Burgess recorded two hits apiece in the losing effort for the Vikings, who held an 11-7 edge in hits but stranded 10 men on base, including eight in scoring position, on the afternoon.
With the triumph, Saint Joseph's improves to 6-1 in the history of the series with Salem State University. The Monks have now defeated the Vikings in six-consecutive meetings dating back to the 2001 campaign.
Saint Joseph's College is Maine's only Catholic liberal arts college, providing a supportive, personalized and career-focused education for more than 100 years. From its 350-acre campus on the shores of Sebago Lake, the College offers more than 40 undergraduate programs to a population of approximately 1,000 students. Saint Joseph's College Online provides certificates, undergraduate and advanced degrees for working adults through an online learning program. For more, visit www.sjcme.edu.