HARRISONBURG, Va. – Pinch runner Dan Gatto scored the winning run on the Tigers' only error of the game as third-seeded Delaware (28-25) outlasted the sixth-seeded Tigers (26-30) in a 12-inning marathon in the opening round of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament at Veterans' Memorial Park on a Wednesday evening that turned into Thursday morning.
Towson will face fourth-seeded George Mason in an elimination game on Thursday at 10 a.m.
Weather problems made it a long day for both teams. A game that was supposed to start at 3:30 p.m. didn’t get underway until 8:30 p.m. By the time Towson-Delaware game ended, the teams had played 12 tense innings and it was after midnight.
The Blue Hens, who lost two of three games to Towson in the regular season, finally broke through in the 12th inning to pull out the victory in an unlikely manner.
Heading into the bottom of the 12th inning, senior righthander Tyler Austin of Towson had struck out seven Blue Hens in a row. Leading off, sophomore first baseman Jimmy Yezzo bounced a 2-2 pitch through the right side for a single. Gatto came into the game as a pinch runner while senior Eric Young came to bat as a pinch hitter. On Austin’s first pitch, Young popped up a bunt towards third base. Junior third baseman Zach Fisher dove for the ball trying to make a catch. When he missed, junior catcher Andrew Parker made an off-balance throw to first base trying to retire Young. However, his throw sailed down the right field line as Gatto ended a game that took three hours and 34 minutes to play.
It was the second-longest game in CAA Tournament history.
"Zach dove for the ball and he was trying to make a play,” said Towson Coach Mike Gottlieb. “I have no problem with that. But, we should have won the game by then.
"We had a chance to break the game wide open in the early innings and we didn't do it,” he added. “I was pleased with how well we hit (Corey) Crispell but their two relievers did a great job shutting us down.”
The sudden finish ended a late-inning pitching duel between senior lefthander Devon Pearson of Delaware and Austin.
In one of his longest outings of the season, Pearson threw 5.1 shutout innings. He allowed one hit, walked four and struck out eight. In his 32nd appearance of the season, Austin pitched four innings. He gave up one earned run and four hits with one walk and nine strikeouts.
The Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Sophomore designated hitter Brandon Gonnella led off with a single to centerfield. Fisher also singled through the left side, giving the Tigers runners on first and second with no outs. While senior righthander Corey Crispell was pitching to sophomore leftfielder Kurt Wertz, Gonnella stole third base. Wertz grounded out to Yezzo as Gonnella scored the first run of the game while Fisher went to second base. After freshman Brendan Butler struck out, sophomore rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono reached base when he was hit by a pitch. However, Parker was retired on a pop fly to end the inning.
Delaware came right back with a rally in the bottom of the first against Tiger righthander Chris Acker. Junior second baseman D.J. Long led off with a double to left centerfield. Junior rightfielder Nick Ferdinand followed with a single to left, putting runners on first and third. Yezzo lifted a fly ball to deep rightfield that Fratantuono caught as Long scored to tie the game. Junior designated hitter Alex Maruri kept the rally going when he doubled down the left field line as Ferdinand reached third. Freshman leftfielder Tyler Powell reached on a fielder’s choice when he hit a line drive to Acker, who knocked it down and tried to get Ferdinand going back to third base. Acker pitched out of the inning when sophomore third baseman E.J. Stoltzfus grounded to Fisher, who turned it into a double play.
With one out in the third inning, the Tigers rallied for two runs. Fisher started the rally with a single to centerfield. After Wertz drew a walk, Butler singled to left, driving in Fisher with the go-ahead run. Fratantuono followed with a shot off the left field fence that went for a long single as Wertz came around to score and Butler advanced to second. But, the Tigers couldn’t add any more runs as Parker popped up and Butler was thrown out trying to steal third.
The Tiger defense helped Acker escape the bottom of the third. Ferdinand drew a leadoff walk and Maruri walked with one out. However, sophomore shortstop Hunter Bennett turned a ground ball by Powell into an inning-ending double play.
In the top of the fourth, the Tigers extended their lead to 7-1, scoring four runs on four hits and one Delaware error. Sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald led off the inning with a single to left. On a hit-and-run play, senior centerfielder Ben Winter singled to right, as Fitzgerald reached third base. With runners on first and third and no outs, Bennett laid down a perfect squeeze bunt as Fitzgerald slid home ahead of the tag. A bunt single by Gonnella loaded the bases for Fisher. Fisher lined a single to rightfield and an error by Ferdinand allowed the ball to roll all the way back to the fence. All three runners scored and Fisher ended up at third base on a two-base error as Towson owned a 7-1 advantage.
Junior righthander Eric Buckland relieved Crispell and pitched out of the jam. With Fisher at third, he retired Wertz on a ground ball to first. With the infield in, Butler hit a hard ground ball to shortstop where freshman Brock Niggebrugge made a nice stop. He threw out Fisher trying to score for the second out. A walk to Fratantuono put runners on first and second before Parker was retired on a fly ball to centerfield.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, Delaware made a bid to get back in the game. With one out, junior centerfielder Nick Giacchino singled to left centerfield. After Niggebrugge struck out, Giacchino advanced to second base on a wild pitch. Freshman catcher Ty Warrington came up with an RBI single to centerfield to cut the Blue Hens’ deficit to 7-2. Long doubled down the left field line, scoring Warrington from first to pull Delaware to within 7-3. When Acker hit Ferdinand with a pitch, he was relieved by freshman righthander Paul Beers.
Yezzo greeted Beers (below) with a double to right centerfield. Fratantuono retrieved the ball and threw to Fitzgerald. After Long scored to make it 7-4, Fitzgerald threw out Ferdinand at home as Parker did a great job blocking the plate.
With the Blue Hens trailing by 7-4, Buckland gave Delaware a chance to come back by shutting down the Tigers. He didn’t allow a hit in 3.2 innings of relief. With two outs in the seventh, he was relieved by Delaware’s relief ace, Pearson, a second team All-CAA selection.
While Buckland was shutting down the Tigers, Beers retired seven batters in a row until Ferdinand singled with one out in the seventh. When Yezzo singled to left, the Blue Hens had runners on first and second. Maruri grounded out to first as both runners moved up a base. An infield single by Powell drove in Ferdinand to cut the lead to 7-5. Stoltzfus lined back to Beers for the final out.
Austin, the Tigers’ closer, came on to pitch the bottom of the eighth and he got himself into immediate trouble. He walked Giacchino, the leadoff hitter, on four pitches. Niggebrugge followed with a single to left. When Warrington sacrificed, Delaware had the tying runs in scoring position. A passed ball enabled Giacchino to score while Niggebrugge reached third base. When Long hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield, Niggebrugge scored the tying run. Austin struck out Ferdinand to end the inning.
With the score tied at 7-7, Wertz led off the ninth inning with a single for the Tigers. He reached second base on a sacrifice bunt Butler. But Pearson struck out pinch hitter Kurtis Voytell and Parker to end the threat.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Maruri singled to right. He was replaced by pinch runner Cameron Travalini. After Powell struck out, Parker caught Travalini trying to steal, sending the game into extra innings.
In the tenth inning, the Tigers were retired in order while Austin struck out the side in the last of the tenth. Gonnella led off the 11th inning by drawing a walk. However, he was forced out at second base when Fisher tried to advance him with a sacrifice bunt. Pearson ended the inning by striking out Wertz and Butler.
After Austin struck out all three Blue Hens he faced in the 11th inning, the Tigers made another bid to score in the 12th inning. With one out, Parker drew a walk. When Fitzgerald also walked, Towson had two runners on base with one out. But, Pearson struck out Winter and retired Bennett on a fly ball to center, setting the stage for the game-winning rally.
Delaware outhit Towson by a 15-10 margin. Yezzo, who started the game-winning rally, had three hits and two runs batted in. Long added two hits, a pair of doubles, while scoring two runs and driving in a pair. Ferdinand, Maruri, and Niggebrugge also added two hits each.
Although the Tigers had ten hits, they had just one hit over the final eight innings. Fisher led Towson with three hits while Gonnella reached base four times on two hits and two walks. He scored a pair of runs.
Towson will try to stay alive on Thursday morning when the Tigers face George Mason. Towson swept a three-game series from the Patriots in mid-March.