TOWSON, Md. - Senior rightfielder Steve Rice capped off a three-run rally in the bottom of the eighth inning with a two-run single as the Tigers (11-16-1, 6-6) nipped Northeastern University (5-19, 1-8) to earn a sweep their three-game Colonial Athletic Association weekend series with a 5-4 come-from-behind win at John B. Schuerholz Park on Sunday afternoon.
The Tigers, who extended their winning streak to five games, swept three close games from the Huskies, winning by scores of 4-3, 5-3 and 4-3.
The three-game sweep enabled the Tigers to even their CAA record at 3-3. It was only the fourth time since 2002 that Towson swept a three-game CAA series.
Trailing by 3-2 in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Tigers rallied for three runs. Senior third baseman Chris Wychock, who had hit a two-run homer in the sixth inning, started the rally with a single to left. After Wychock's single, sophomore righthander Dylan Maki came into the game to relieve sophomore lefthander Chris Carmain. Maki walked junior catcher Brian Wyman to put two runners on base.
Senior designated hitter Austin Harclerode dropped down an unusual bunt that resulted in an RBI single. He pushed his bunt past the mound and beyond the reach of junior second baseman Alan Pastrynak. While Harclerode reached base and Wyman went to second base, Wychock came all the way around to score the tying run from second base.
Junior centerfielder Ben Winter followed with a sacrifice bunt that moved both runners into scoring position. With the infield playing in, Rice drove a 3-2 pitch into rightfield to score two runs and give Towson a 5-3 lead. Maki pitched out of the inning when he got freshman leftfielder Brandon Gonnella to hit into a double play.
In the ninth inning, senior righthander Tyler Bugna allowed a one-out double to freshman shortstop Oliver Hart. With two outs, junior first baseman Matt Miller lined an RBI single to centerfield as Hart scored to make it a 5-4 lead.
However, Bugna, who earned the win in relief, nailed down the victory by getting senior leftfielder Jeff Dunlap to line out to left field where Gonnella made a fine catch.
For most of the game, senior righthanders Brandon McNelis of Northeastern and the Tigers' Charlie Cononie were engaged in a tense pitcher's duel.
In the first inning, McNelis worked his way out of a jam. With one out, freshman second Pat Fitzgerald drew a walk. When McNelis tried to pick him off first base, his throwing error enabled Fitzgerald to reach third base.
With Fitzgerald on third base and one out, McNelis struck out Wychock for the second out. Then, he retired sophomore catcher Andrew Parker on a soft popup to second base.
On the first pitch of the second inning, sophomore designated hitter Jon Leroux hit a fly ball deep to right field. With the assistance of a 22-mile per hour wind that was blowing out to right field, it went for a home run and a 1-0 lead for the Huskies. It was his first home run of the season and the second homer of his career.
The solo homer also ended Cononie's streak of 13 consecutive scoreless innings.
With one out in the second inning, sophomore catcher John Puttress doubled to left centerfield. However, Cononie escaped the jam when he struck out junior third baseman Jimmy Filter and junior second baseman Alan Pastrynak,
After McNelis escaped the first inning jam, he pitched very well. He retired ten Tigers in a row until Parker reached base on an infield single in the fourth inning. Filter made a great stop near the left field line but his long throw was late, resulting in a collision between Parker and Miller. Parker left the game with an injury.
In the fifth inning, Winter led off with an infield hit, giving the Tigers their leadoff base runner of the game. After Rice sacrificed him to second base, freshman leftfielder Dominic Fratantuono grounded out to second base. Then, McNelis struck out freshman first baseman Hunter Bennett to end the inning.
After giving up a run in the second inning, Cononie settled into a groove. He retired 12 of 13 hitters before walking Miller with one out in the sixth inning. After retiring Dunlap on a fly ball to rightfield, he walked Leroux, putting two runners on base. When he walked sophomore rightfielder Pete Castoldi, the Huskies had the bases loaded with two outs.
With the help of a great defensive play by Rice in rightfield, Cononie escaped the inning without allowing any more runs. Puttress hit a line drive down the right field line. Rice made a diving catch to rob Puttress of an extra base hit that would have put the Huskies ahead by more than a run.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tigers finally broke through against McNelis. With one out, Fitzgerald singled to centerfield. Then, Wychock ended a nine-pitch at bat by smashing a two-run homer well over the left field fence to give Towson a 2-1 lead. Wychock's fifth homer of the season was hit so far that the leftfielder, Dunlap, never moved.
Trailing for the first time, the Huskies came right back and rallied to take the lead in the seventh inning. With one out, Pastrynak singled. Hart drilled a double to right centerfield, his first double of the season. When Winter couldn't come up with the ball, he was charged with an error and Pastrynak scored the tying run. Moments later, freshman centerfielder Aaron Barbosa lined a single to rightfield, scoring Hart to give the Huskies a 3-2 lead.
After Barbosa's single, Cononie was relieved by sophomore righthander Sean Thompson. Thompson got some immediate help when Wyman picked Barbosa off first base. After Thompson walked Miller, he retired Dunlap on a fly ball to centerfield.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, Carmain replaced McNelis and struggled with his control. He loaded the bases on walks to Winter, Gonnella and senior shortstop Nick Natoli. But, he escaped the inning by retiring Fitzgerald on a fly ball to centerfield.
Cononie, who set a career high with ten strikeouts, pitched 6.1 innings and allowed three runs on six hits. He walked four batters and had ten strikeouts.
McNelis allowed two runs on four hits in six innings. He walked one and had five strikeouts.
Maki, who suffered his first loss of the year, allowed two runs on two hits with one walk.
Bugna, who raised your record to 2-1, pitched two innings of relief. He gave up one run on three hits with two strikeouts.
The Huskies, who were outscored in the series by a 14-10 margin, outhit the Tigers by a 9-7 margin in the series finale. Barbosa, Puttress and Hart each had two hits.
Barbosa had two singles and drove in a run while Puttress was two-for-four. Hart had two doubles and scored a pair of runs.
Miller, who batted .571 in the weekend series, had one hit and drew three walks. He was walked six times in the three-game series.
Wychock led the Tigers with two hits, two runs scored and two runs batted in.
The Tigers' three-game sweep was their fourth sweep in CAA action. Last year, they swept Georgia State. In 2008, Towson swept Hofstra. The Tigers also swept Drexel in 2003.
The Tigers, who are now 6-3-1 at home, return to action on Wednesday when they visit Delaware State.