TOWSON, Md. - Senior righthander Tyler Austin earned his sixth save of the season as the Tigers (25-29, 14-15) kept their Colonial Athletic Association playoff hopes alive with a dramatic 11-10 CAA victory over James Madison University (16-33, 10-19) in the second game of their three-game series at John B. Schuerholz Park on Friday afternoon.
The victory enabled the Tigers to improve their CAA playoff hopes. Towson enters tomorrow's season finale with a 1.5-game lead over Georgia State and Northeastern for the sixth and final spot in the CAA playoffs.
It was also Towson’s second straight win over JMU. The Tigers trimmed the Dukes in the series opener on Thursday, 8-3.
Making his 30th appearance of the season, Austin pitched 1.2 innings of relief to earn the save. He allowed one run on two hits with no walks and three strikeouts. Austin came into the game with one out in the eighth inning and the Tigers clinging to a 10-9. Junior rightfielder Johnny Bladel had just doubled and the Dukes had the tying run on second base. Austin pitched out of the jam by retiring sophomore third baseman Ty McFarland on a ground ball to first base and striking out senior designated hitter Evan Scott.
The Tigers added an unearned run in the bottom of the eighth inning when freshman first baseman Brendan Butler drew a walk, stole second base and scored on a sacrifice fly by senior centerfielder Ben Winter.
The Tigers entered the top of the ninth inning with an 11-9 advantage. Freshman shortstop Chad Carroll led off the ninth by hitting the first home run of his career on a 3-2 pitch, cutting the Dukes’ deficit to 11-10. Then, junior leftfielder Cole McInturff reached base on an infield single. Austin picked up the first out of the inning when junior Casey Goss struck out on a third strike bunt that went foul. Junior Bradley Shaban was retired on a fly ball to centerfield for the second out. On a 2-2 pitch, junior Colby Roberts reached base when he was hit by a pitch, putting runners on first and second with two outs. But, Austin earned the save when he slipped a called third strike past freshman Aaron Hoover, ending the wild game.
In a game that featured three ties and three lead changes, the Dukes struck first as their first three hitters of the game singled. Bladel led off with a single and McFarland reached base on an infield single. Scott drove in the first run of the game when he singled to leftfield. However, sophomore lefthander Kyle Paul settled down and got Carroll to hit into a double play before McInturff grounded out to end the threat.
In the second inning, the Tigers came back to take a lead. Sophomore rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono led off and reached base on an infield error. With two outs, he stole second base. Sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald drov e in the tying run with a single to right. He advanced to second base on the throw to the plate. Moments later, sophomore shortstop Hunter Bennett (right) lined an RBI single to left, putting Towson ahead, 2-1.
The Tigers’ lead didn’t last long though. McFarland led off the third inning and reached base when he was hit by a pitch. A single by Scott and a bunt single by Carroll loaded the bases with no outs. When McInturff lined a double into the rightfield corner, two runs scored and the Dukes took a 3-2 lead. At that point, sophomore righthander Chris Acker relieved Paul, the Tigers’ starting pitcher. As a pinch hitter, Goss greeted Acker with an RBI single to increase the lead to 4-2. However, Acker pitched out of the jam when junior catcher Andrew Parker threw out Goss trying to steal, Shaban lined out to first base and senior centerfielder Ian Haynes struck out.
In the fourth inning, Parker led off with a walk. After senior centerfielder Ben Winter sacrificed him to second base, Fitzgerald was retired on a fly ball to center. Bennett came through with an RBI single to left, driving in Parker to make it a 4-3 deficit. Then, sophomore designated hitter Brandon Gonnella drilled a triple to score Bennett and tie the game at 4-4. However, freshman righthander Michael Howerton survived the rally by striking out sophomore leftfielder Kurt Wertz.
With the game tied at 4-4, the Tigers rallied again in the bottom of the fifth. Butler led off with a walk and Fratantuono reached base when he was hit by a pitch. After a sacrifice bunt by Parker moved both runners into scoring position, Winter delivered a two-run single to rightfield, giving the Tigers a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Senior righthander Josh Futter relieved Howerton and got Fitzgerald to hit into an inning-ending double play.
In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Tigers added four more runs to up their lead to 10-4. Bennett drew a leadoff walk and Gonnella singled. A throwing error on a pickoff attempt by Shaban allowed both runners to move up a base. Junior third baseman Zach Fisher plated two runs when he singled to rightfield, giving Towson an 8-4 advantage. Wertz followed with a double to put runners on second and third. After a walk to Butler loaded the bases, Fratantuono was hit by a pitch, forcing in a run to give Towson a 9-4 lead. When Parker hit a sacrifice fly, the Tigers took a 10-4 lead into the seventh inning.
Acker, who shut out JMU for four innings, ran into control problems in the seventh inning. Leading off the inning, Acker walked Bladel on a 3-1 pitch. After he struck out McFarland, he issued another walk to Scott. When he walked Carroll, the Dukes had the bases loaded with one out. Bladel came into to score when McInturff grounded out to third base. But, Goss lined a double to left centerfield, scoring two runs to pull the Dukes to within 10-7. On the next pitch, Shaban blasted a two-run homer to rightcenter field, making it a 10-9 game.
At that point, Acker was relieved by junior righthander Mike Volpe. He struck out Roberts to end the threat.
In the bottom of the seventh, the Tigers had runners on first and third with one out. However, Wertz hit into a double play to end the inning.
In the eighth inning, Volpe retired Hoover on a fly ball before Bladel’s double brought Austin into the game to pitch.
The Dukes, who outhit Towson by a 14-12 margin, were led by McInturff and Goss. Each of them had two hits and three RBI’s. Bladel also had two hits and scored two runs while Scott had two hits and one RBI. Carroll went two-for-four and scored three runs.
Fisher led the Tigers with three hits and two RBI’s. He also scored a run. Bennett had two hits, scored two runs and had two RBI’s. Winter led the Tigers with three RBI’s. Fitzgerald and Gonnella also had a pair of hits.
Acker earned his fourth win of the season by pitching 4.2 innings. He allowed five runs on three hits with three walks and three strikeouts. He evened his record at 4-4 on the year.
Towson and James Madison close out the regular season on Saturday afternoon at Schuerholz Park at 1:00 p.m. It will be Senior Day as the Tigers honor their four seniors – Austin, Winter, Sean Adkins and Sean Thompson.