HARRISONBURG, Va. – Junior lefthander Kyle Paul earned his first save of the season by pitching out of a ninth inning jam as Towson University (26-28) advanced to the second round of the 2013 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament with a 9-8 victory over Northeastern University (28-25) at Veterans Memorial Park on Wednesday afternoon.
The victory marked the first time since joining the CAA in 2002 that Towson has won its CAA Tournament opener. The Tigers advance to the second round where they will play top-seeded North Carolina Wilmington on Thursday afternoon at 12 noon.
The Tigers, who took a 9-6 lead into the top of the ninth inning, needed some solid pitching by Paul to secure their third win in four games against Northeastern.
Pinch hitter Will Dougherty led off the ninth inning with a single to left field. Junior rightfielder Aaron Barbosa followed with a single to centerfield, bringing the tying run to the plate. However, junior righthander Nik Nowottnick, in his second inning of relief, walked junior leftfielder Brad Burcroff on a 3-2 pitch to load the bases.
At that point, Paul was summoned from the bullpen. He retired first baseman Rob Fonseca on a sacrifice fly to centerfield, scoring a run to make it a 9-7 game as all three runners advanced. When junior shortstop Jason Vosler, who was four-for-four at that point, grounded out to sophomore first baseman Brendan Butler, Barbosa scored to cut the lead to 9-8 with two outs. But, Paul nailed down the victory by retiring freshman second baseman Michael Foster on a fly ball to sophomore leftfielder Peter Bowles as the Tigers held on for the win.
Senior righthander Mike Volpe earned the win for the Tigers with an impressive seven-inning performance. Volpe threw 133 pitches as he gave up five runs on nine hits. He issued only one walk and had a career high 11 strikeouts. With the win, he improved to 8-3 on the season.
The Tigers took an early lead in what turned out to be a wild game. In the bottom of the first inning, third baseman Zach Fisher gave the Tigers a very fast 1-0 lead when he hit a 3-1 pitch over the rightfield fence for his first home run of the season. In fact, it was his first homer since May 24, 2012 when he homered against Virginia Commonwealth in the CAA Tournament, some 363 days ago.
Towson threatened to add to its lead in the first inning when junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald singled. However, he was thrown out trying to steal second base and sophomore righthander Nick Berger retired the next two hitters as the Huskies trailed 1-0 after one inning.
Vosler led off the second inning with a double for the Huskies. After Volpe struck out Foster, senior catcher John Puttress hit a line drive up the middle that hit Volpe and went into centerfield for an RBI single, tying the game at 1-1. However, Volpe came right back to strike out the next two hitters, preserving the 1-1 tie.
With two outs in the top of the third, Burcroff gave the Huskies a 2-1 lead when he blasted his fourth home run of the season over the centerfield fence, just beyond the reach of Tiger centerfielder Brandon Gonnella.
In the fourth inning, the Huskies added to their lead. Vosler and Foster opened the inning with back-to-back singles. After Puttress bunted both runners into scoring position, junior centerfielder Sean Lyons lined a two-run single to centerfield, giving Northeastern a 4-1 advantage. Lyons was thrown out trying to steal second base before Volpe struck out senior third baseman Pete Castoldi to end the inning.
In the bottom of the fourth inning, the Tigers wasted little time getting back into the game. With one out, junior rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono tripled off the left centerfield fence. Gonnella followed with a double down the leftfield line to cut the deficit to 4-2. With two outs, senior catcher Andrew Parker blasted a long home run over the leftfield fence, tying the game at 4-4. It was his ninth home run of the season and the 21st homer of his career.
The Tigers took the lead in the bottom of the fifth inning. Fisher led off with a bloop double down the left field line. After Fitzgerald bunted him over to third base, junior designated hitter Kurt Wertz belted a two-run homer to left field, putting the Tigers ahead, 6-4. It was his team-leading 12th home run of the season and his fourth home run against Northeastern pitching.
Volpe took a 6-4 lead into the sixth inning. Vosler led off with a single to centerfield. After Foster was retired on a fly ball to left, Puttress singled to right as Vosler advanced to third base. Lyons, who entered the game with only four runs batted in this season, grounded out to second base to drive in a run, his third RBI of the game. Volpe pitched out of the inning by getting Castoldi to ground out to third base.
Leading by 6-5, Volpe worked his way through the seventh inning as he retired the side in order. When he struck out pinch hitter Chris Carmain, it was his 11th strikeout of the game, setting a career high.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Tigers added to their lead. Fitzgerald opened the inning with a walk. Junior righthander Dylan Maki came in from the bullpen to relieve Matt Cook, who had pitched 1.2 hitless innings. He immediately walked Wertz to put runners on first and second base. When Bowles bunted, Fonseca made a great play and threw out Fitzgerald advancing to third base. However, Fratantuono smashed a 2-2 pitch deep over the right centerfield fence to give the Tigers a 9-5 lead. It was Fratantuono’s seventh home run of the season.
Volpe was relieved after seven innings by Nowottnick. With one out in the eighth inning, Vosler singled to left field. When Foster also singled, the Huskies had two runners on base. Nowottnick retired Puttress on a force play for the second out as Vosler reached third base. When Lyons reached on an infield single, Vosler scored to cut the lead to 9-6. It was Lyons’ fourth RBI of the game, matching his seasonal total. But, Nowottnick pitched out of the jam by retiring Castoldi on a fly ball to left field.
Although the Huskies outhit the Tigers by a 14-11 margin, the Tigers hit four home runs, three doubles and a triple. Tiger hitters also drew five walks.
Vosler led Northeastern by going four-for-five with four runs scored and one RBI. Barbosa, Foster, Puttress and Lyons each had a pair of hits for the Huskies.
Fisher led the Tigers by going three-for-five with two runs scored. He had a single, a double and a home run. Wertz went two-for-four with two runs scored and three RBI’s. He increased his seasonal RBI total to 59, third in the CAA.
Fratantuono went two-for-three with a walk and three RBI’s while Parker was one-for-two with two RBI’s and a walk.
The victory marked the 650th career win for Towson Coach Mike Gottlieb, who has been the Tigers’ coach for 26 years.
The Tigers will return to action on Thursday at 12 noon when they face top-seeded North Carolina Wilmington. The Seahawks, who were ranked as high as 21st in the nation this season, lost two of three games to Towson at Schuerholz Park on April 26-28. After UNCW earned a 10-5 victory in the series opener, the Tigers pulled out a 9-5 win in the second game before pulling out an 8-5 in the third and deciding game.