TOWSON, Md. – Sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald lined a one-out single to left field with one out in the bottom of the tenth inning as the Tigers (26-29, 15-15) came from behind to earn a berth in the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament with a 5-4 CAA victory over James Madison University (16-35-2, 10-20) in the final regular season game of the season for both teams at John B. Schuerholz Park on Saturday afternoon.
Fitzgerald’s clutch hit ended a drama-filled afternoon as the Tigers came into the final game of the season needing a win to earn a berth in the CAA Tournament for the first time since 2008.
The Tigers went into the bottom of the ninth inning trailing by 4-3. With one out, junior Kurtis Voytell (below) came into the game as a pinch hitter for sophomore shortstop Hunter Bennett. On a one-strike pitch from freshman righthander Chris Huffman, Voytell blasted a home run over the left centerfield fence to tie the game.
After junior righthander Michael Trionfo, appearing in his third inning of relief, retired the Dukes in the tenth inning, sophomore leftfielder Kurt Wertz led off the bottom of the tenth with a single to right. With one out, sophomore Dominic Fratantuono broke out of an 0-for-13 slump with a single to right that enabled Wertz to reach third base. When the Dukes walked junior catcher Andrew Parker, the Tigers had the bases loaded with one out.
On a 1-0 pitch from Huffman, Fitzgerald lined a single over the head of third baseman Johnny Bladel as Wertz scored the winning run.
“We were hoping that Fitz could get something that he could elevate and hit over the infield,” said Coach Mike Gottlieb. “Fortunately, he was able to do that.
“I am very proud of this team,” he added. “We really had our backs to the wall this weekend and a lot of guys came through for us. It’s great to be going back to the CAA Tournament.”
The Tigers will join top-seeded UNC Wilmington, Hofstra, Delaware, George Mason and Virginia Commonwealth at the CAA Tournament next week. The tournament will be played at Veterans’ Memorial Park in Harrisonburg, Va.
Trionfo, who pitched eight innings in an 8-3 win over the Dukes on Thursday, threw 2.1 innings of scoreless relief in the season finale. He earned his tenth win of the season as he broke the Towson single season record for victories. Trionfo leads the CAA with a 10-3 record.
After Beers pitched his way out of a first inning jam, the Tigers took a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning.
Sophomore designated hitter Brandon Gonnella led off the bottom of the first inning by drawing a walk. With junior third baseman Zach Fisher at bat, Gonnella stole second base. After Fisher lined out to left field, Wertz blasted a two-run homer over the left centerfield fence, giving the Tigers a lead. The Tigers had a chance to add to their lead when freshman first baseman Brendan Butler doubled. But, freshman righthander Ben Garner retired Fratantuono on a fly ball to right before Parker grounded out.
In the second inning, the Dukes had two runners on base with two outs but Beers retired senior centerfielder Ian Haynes on a ground ball to second base. Beers also flirted with danger in the third inning when the Dukes loaded the bases with two outs. But he got junior catcher Bradley Shaban to ground out and end the inning.
In the bottom of the third inning, the Tigers missed out on a chance to extend their lead. With one out, Fisher singled to rightfield. Then, Wertz made a strong bid for his second home run when he lined a shot off the rightfield fence that went for a double. However, Garner struck out Butler on a 1-2 pitch before Haynes made a fine running catch on Fratantuono’s bid for an extra base hit in right centerfield.
In the fourth inning, the Dukes threatened again. Once again, Beers worked his way out of the jam. Junior second baseman Casey Goss opened the inning with a single and went to second on an infield out. Haynes reached on a bunt single as Goss reached third base. When Bladel was hit by a pitch, the Dukes had the bases loaded. But, Beers got out of the jam. Junior rightfielder Cole McInturff hit a ground ball to Butler at first base. He fielded the ball and threw home to get the force play on Goss. Senior designated hitter Evan Scott popped to shortstop, ending the threat.
In the fifth inning, the Dukes finally broke through and scored a run. McInturff opened the inning with a double to leftfield. When Carroll followed with a single to left, McInturff advanced to third base. At that point, Beers was relieved by Austin.
Making his 31st appearance of the season and his third of the series, Austin retired Shaban on a sacrifice fly to right as McInturff scored to cut the deficit to 2-1. After retiring Goss on a fly ball, Austin escaped the inning when Parker threw out Carroll trying to steal second base.
After Austin retired the Dukes in order in the sixth inning, JMU rallied in the seventh. McFarland led off with a single through the right side. Then, on a 3-2 pitch, Scott launched his seventh home run of the season over the left centerfield fence to give the Dukes a 3-2 lead. McInturff kept the inning going when he doubled down the left field line. A single by Carroll put runners on the corners with no outs. A safety squeeze bunt by Shaban drove in McInturff to up the lead to 4-2. When Carroll tried to steal third base, Parker threw him out for the second out. Austin pitched out of the inning when junior Colby Roberts grounded out to third.
In the bottom of the seventh, Winter led off with a double to rightcenter field. Sophomore shortstop Hunter Bennett singled to centerfield, putting runners at the corners. Freshman lefthander Aaron Hoover came out of the bullpen to relieve Garner. After retiring Gonnella on a fly ball to right, Hoover gave up an infield single to Fisher that drove in Winter to make it a 4-3 lead. When Hoover hit Wertz with a pitch, the Tigers had the bases loaded with one out.
But, Huffman came out of the bullpen and escaped the inning by getting Butler to hit into an inning-ending double play. Huffman also set the Tigers down in order in the eighth inning.
Trionfo, who was making his first relief appearance after 13 starts this season, came on in the eighth inning with two outs and two runners on base and pitched out of the inning. He also retired the Dukes in the ninth inning.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth inning, Voytell kept the Tigers’ season alive when he launched a solo home run over the left centerfield fence. It was his first home run as a Tiger.
“Mike Trionfo is such a competitor,” says Gottlieb. “A lot of guys think they are competitors but Mike really is. He wants the ball whenever you want to give it to him.”
The Dukes, who were the defending CAA champions, outhit the Tigers by a 14-12 margin. McInturff and Goss led the Dukes with three hits each. Scott added two hits and drove in two runs while Shaban also had a pair of RBI’s.
Wertz, who batted .538 in the weekend series, led the Tigers with three hits, two runs scored and two RBI’s. Fisher added two hits for the Tigers.
Trionfo pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless relief to earn his tenth win of the year. He allowed one hit and walked two with one strikeout.
The Tigers will be making their fourth appearance in the CAA Tournament.