WILMINGTON, N.C. – Senior righthander Tyler Austin came out of the bullpen to pitch out of a ninth inning jam, leading the Tigers (21-25, 11-11) to a 3-1 Colonial Athletic Association victory over league-leading UNC Wilmington (27-18, 17-5) in the opening game of their three-game weekend series at Brooks Field on Friday evening.
With the win, the Tigers snapped their six-game losing streak as they evened their CAA record at 11-11. UNCW, which came into the game with 11 wins in its last 13 games, dropped the opening game of a CAA weekend series for the first time this season.
Making his CAA-leading 25th appearance, Austin came into the game with one out in the ninth inning and the tying runs in scoring position. Senior leftfielder Thomas Pope led off the bottom of the ninth with his second hit, a single to centerfield. After sophomore righthander Chris Acker issued a walk on a 3-1 pitch to catcher Drew Farber, the Seahawks had the tying runs on base. A sacrifice bunt by shortstop Jake Koenig put both runners in scoring position.
At that point, Coach Mike Gottlieb summoned Austin from the bullpen. On a 3-2 pitch, Austin struck out freshman designated hitter Corey Dick as he took a called third strike. Then, Austin earned his fourth save of the season by whiffing second baseman Michael Bass on a 2-2 pitch.
“Tyler came through for us in a big spot,” admitted Gottlieb. “Chris Acker had done a nice job getting us to the ninth inning and it helped our confidence to win this one. All three guys who pitched for us did a nice job and kept us in the game.”
Junior righthander Michael Trionfo teamed up with Acker and Austin to hold UNCW one unearned run and five hits. Tiger pitching issued four walks and struck out eight.
Trionfo, who upped his record to 7-3, allowed one unearned run on four hits in five innings. He walked one and struck out four. Acker pitched 3.1 shutout innings, giving up one hit. He walked three and struck out two. Austin threw 11 pitches and struck out the only two hitters he faced.
Facing the Seahawks’ ace righthander, senior Tyler McSwain, the Tigers took a 1-0 lead in the second inning. With one out, freshman leftfielder Peter Bowles singled to centerfield. Junior third baseman Zach Fisher followed with a single to left as Bowles reached third base. Bowles and Fisher gave the Tigers the lead when they pulled off a double steal. But, McSwain retired senior centerfielder Ben Winter on a ground ball to second base and got shortstop Hunter Bennett to pop up to centerfield, ending the threat.
In the third inning, freshman first baseman Brendan Butler led off with a single to left. After he stole second base, he advanced to third on a passed ball. After sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald struck out, sophomore rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono was issued an intentional walk. Butler gave the Tigers a 2-0 advantage when he scored on a sacrifice fly by junior catcher Andrew Parker. McSwain escaped the inning when Farber threw out Fratantuono trying to steal.
Trionfo, who opened the game by throwing three hitless innings, ran into trouble in the fourth inning. With one out, junior rightfielder Tyler Molinaro reached base on an error by Fitzgerald. Centerfielder Andrew Cain reached base on an infield hit, putting two runners on base. After first baseman Hunter Ridge was retired on a fly ball, Pope cut the Seahawks’ deficit to 2-1 when he lined an RBI double down the leftfield line. With runners on second and third, Trionfo got Farber to ground out to first base, ending the threat.
In the bottom of the fifth, Trionfo struck out the side and took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the sixth. After Cain led off the sixth with a double, Acker came in to relieve him. After getting Ridge to ground out to shortstop for the first out, he struck out Pope and Farber to end the threat.
The Tigers added an insurance run in the seventh inning. With two outs, Fisher singled to left, his second hit of the game. Then, Winter drilled a triple to rightfield, scoring Fisher to give Towson a 3-1 advantage. Bennett grounded out to end the threat.
McSwain, who fell to 7-3, pitched well in the loss. He pitched eight innings and gave up two earned runs on seven hits with one walk and eight strikeouts.
Fisher, who went two-for-three, led the Tigers offensively. Towson outhit UNCW, 7-5. Cain and Pope led the Seahawks with two hits each.
Towson and UNCW will play the second game of their three-game weekend series on Saturday at 12 noon. The game time has been switched from 2 p.m. to 12 noon due to the threat of rain.