HARRISONBURG, Va. – Third baseman Zach Fisher blasted two home runs and drove in a career high six runs as the fourth-seeded Tigers (27-28) handed top-seeded North Carolina Wilmington (37-20) a 13-11 loss in the second round of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament at Veterans Memorial Park on Thursday afternoon.
With the win, the Tigers advanced to Game 7 of the tournament where they will play either William & Mary or James Madison at 12 noon on Friday.
In their win over the Seahawks, the Tigers’ offense came to life in the final five innings. The Tigers entered the top of the fifth inning facing a 3-0 deficit. They were held to one hit and two base runners by junior lefthander Mat Batts, the CAA Pitcher of the Year.
But, the Tigers scored 13 runs on 14 hits over the final five innings to pull out the win. It was the Tigers’ third straight win over the Seahawks.
Towson took a 13-9 lead into the bottom of the ninth before the Seahawks rallied. With the tying runs on base, sophomore righthander Paul Beers induced catcher Drew Farber to hit into a game-ending double play.
“For the second day in a row, the game came down to the final out,” said Towson Coach Mike Gottlieb. “I guess that’s championship baseball. A wise man once said that ‘it’s not over until it’s over.’ That has been true in this tournament.”
The Tigers had to hold on for a 9-8 win over Northeastern in the opening round of the tournament.
In the early innings, it looked like the Seahawks would breeze to a win.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Seahawks grabbed an early lead. Senior second baseman Michael Bass led off with a triple off the rightfield fence. When freshman shortstop Terence Connelly grounded out to shortstop, the Seahawks had a 1-0 lead. Sophomore leftfielder Luke Dunlap followed with a single to left. Then, senior rightfielder Tyler Molinaro belted his tenth home run over the centerfield fence, giving UNCW a 3-0 advantage. With two outs, UNCW threatened to score some more runs. After back-to-back singles by sophomore designated hitter Corey Dick and senior first baseman Matt Keller, junior righthander Brandon Gonnella escaped the inning by getting junior catcher Drew Farber to ground out to third base.
Staked to a 3-0 lead, Batts sailed through the first three innings. After retiring the first eight hitters he faced, he walked junior shortstop Hunter Bennett with two outs in the third. He didn’t allow a base hit until junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald led off with a single in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Gonnella continued to pitch out of trouble. The Seahawks stranded two base runners in the third and left the bases loaded in the fourth inning.
Batts took a commanding 3-0 lead into the top of the fifth inning before things fell apart for him. Sophomore first baseman Brendan Butler led off with a single to centerfield. When senior catcher Andrew Parker also singled, the Tigers had two runners on base with no outs. Sophomore centerfielder Richie Blosser tried to bunt the runners over but hit into a force play. With runners on first and third, Bennett lined a single to centerfield to drive in Butler and cut the lead to 3-1. When third baseman Fisher drew a walk, the Tigers had the bases loaded with one out.
Fitzgerald’s second hit of the game, a single to left, enabled Blosser to score and cut the deficit to 3-2. When Batts issued a walk to junior designated hitter Kurt Wertz, the score was tied at 3-3. Sophomore leftfielder Peter Bowles gave the Tigers their first lead when he singled to centerfield to put the Tigers ahead, 4-3. When junior rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono grounded into a force play, Fitzgerald scored to put the Tigers up, 5-3. The tenth batter of the inning, Butler grounded out to end the rally.
The Seahawks responded by scoring four runs in the bottom of the fifth. Dick led off with a walk. Freshman righthander Lee Lawler came in to relieve Gonnella and he walked Keller. Junior righthander Nick Cioffi came in to replace Lawler and gave up a single to Farber, loading the bases. A sacrifice fly by centerfielder Andy Austin drove in Dick to make it a 5-4 lead. Bass followed with an RBI single to tie the game. At that point, junior lefthander Kyle Paul relieved Cioffi and gave up an RBI single to Connelly as UNCW took a 6-5 lead. When Dunlap singled to rightfield, Bass scored to up the lead to 7-5. Paul finally pitched out of the inning when Molinaro grounded out and Dick struck out.
The Seahawks’ lead was short-lived. In the top of the sixth inning, Parker and Blosser drew back-to-back walks. At that point, Batts was relieved by senior righthander Jack Lane. Bennett reached base on a bunt single to load the bases with no outs. Then, Fisher blasted a grand slam home run over the rightfield fence to put the Tigers ahead, 9-7.
In the bottom of the sixth, Keeler and Farber hit back-to-back doubles to cut the deficit to 9-8. Paul struck out pinch hitter Luis Renvill for the first out before issuing a walk to Bass. With two runners on base, junior righthander Nik Nowottnick relieved Paul. He pitched out of the jam by retiring Connelly on a fly ball to left and Dunlap on a fly ball to right field.
Leading by 9-8, the Tigers extended their lead to 10-8 in the seventh inning. With two outs, Parker blasted a long home run over the left field fence, his tenth homer of the season, giving Towson a 10-8 advantage.
After Nowottnick retired the Seahawks in order in the seventh, the Tigers rallied for three runs in the eighth inning. Bennett led off with a double to left field. Then, Fisher belted his second home run of the game and his third of the CAA Tournament to give the Tigers a 12-8 lead. Two outs later, Bowles gave Towson a 13-8 lead when he hit a solo homer to left field.
Nowottnick ran into some trouble in the bottom of the eighth. Keeler drew a leadoff walk. He advanced to second base on a throwing error when Nowottnick tried to pick him off first base. After he reached third base on a passed ball. Farber also walked. An infield single by Renvill enabled Keeler to score to make it a 13-9 game. However, Nowottnick got Bass to ground into a double play. Then, he retired Connelly on a fly ball to left.
Trailing by 13-9 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Seahawks rallied with one out. Molinaro pulled UNCW to within 13-10 when he smashed a solo homer down the rightfield line. LaGrange kept the Seahawks’ hopes alive with a double down the left field line.
After the double by LaGrange, Beers relieved Nowottnick. Dick doubled to left centerfield, driving in LaGrange to make it a 13-11 lead. A walk to Keeler gave the Seahawks runners on first and second base with one out and brought the winning run to the plate.
But the Tiger infield came up with another huge play. Farber hit a ground ball to Fitzgerald at second base. He flipped the ball to Bennett who fired to first base, completing the twin-killing. It was Towson’s 76th double play of the season, a mark that leads the nation.
“We have so much confidence in our defense,” said Parker. “All season long, it seems like we would come up with a double play whenever we needed one. In the ninth inning, I was hoping we could come up with one and we did.”
Paul, who earned a save in the Tigers’ 9-8 win over Northeastern, picked up the win against UNC Wilmington. He pitched one inning and allowed one run on four hits with two walks and two strikeouts. Beers earned the save by pitching 0.2 innings of relief.
The Seahawks outhit Towson by an 18-15 margin as Bass, Dick and Keeler had three hits each. Bass went three-for-four with two triples and scored two runs. Dick was three-for-five and had one RBI. Keeler had three hits and drew three walks. He scored three runs. Molinaro added two hits and drove in three runs.
Fisher led the Tigers with two homers and six RBI’s. He entered the CAA Tournament with no homers on the season. In fact, four of his five career home runs have been hit in the CAA Tournament the last two years. In two CAA Tournament games, he is batting .500 with five runs scored, a double, three homers and seven RBI’s.
Fitzgerald, Bowles, Fratantuono, Butler and Parker each added a pair of hits in the win.
In two CAA Tournament games, the Tigers have batted .356 with eight home runs and they have scored 22 runs.