HARRISONBURG, Va. – Sophomore first baseman Brendan Butler had three base hits, scored five runs and drove in six runs as the Tigers (28-28) reached the championship round of the 2013 Colonial Athletic Association Tournament with a 20-13 victory over William & Mary (36-21) at Veterans Memorial Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Seeking their first-ever CAA championship and their first NCAA Tournament berth since 1991, the Tigers will play either North Carolina Wilmington, William & Mary or Northeastern on Saturday afternoon for the CAA title,
All nine hitters in the Tiger lineup had at least one hit as fourth-seeded Towson beat second-seeded William & Mary for the third time in four meetings this season. Towson used a six-run third inning, a three-run fourth, a four-run sixth and a three-run eighth inning to hold off the Tribe, which had 17 hits in the game.
For the Tigers, it marked seasonal highs in runs scored and base hits.
Butler went three-for-five with a walk and tied a school record with five runs scored. He also had a career high six RBI’s as he blasted a three-run homer in the third inning, an RBI triple in the fourth and an RBI triple in the eighth. His two triples in the game tied a CAA Tournament record.
“This team has no fear,” said Coach Mike Gottlieb. “No matter what happens, they have the confidence to bounce right back. The way we are playing, I just try to stay out of the way.
“This has been an unbelievable offensive tournament,” he added. “Fortunately, we have been able to keep up.”
In the first inning, the Tigers started piling on the runs when they took a 2-0 lead. With one out, junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald started the rally with a double down the left field line. He remained at second base when junior Kurt Wertz reached base on an infield single. When sophomore leftfielder Peter Bowles grounded into a force play, the Tigers had runners at the corners. When junior lefthander Jason Inghram threw a wild pitch, Fitzgerald scored the first run of the game. Moments later, junior rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono singled to left, driving in Bowles to give the Tigers a 2-0 lead.
The Tribe came right back in the top of the second inning. Leftfielder Jonathan Sarty led off with a single to right centerfield. He moved up to second base when designated hitter Jackson Shaver grounded out to first base. When shortstop Ryan Williams singled to centerfield, the Tribe had runners on first and third base. A sacrifice fly by Derek Lowe drove in Sarty to cut the deficit to 2-1 before Beers retired centerfielder Ryan Brown on a ground ball to third base.
In the third inning, the Tribe took a 4-2 lead. Third baseman William Shaw drew a leadoff walk and sophomore first baseman Michael Katz doubled down the left field line. On the next pitch, second baseman Ryan Lindemuth put the Tribe ahead when he smashed a three-run homer over the left field fence, his fourth home run of the season.
Trailing by 4-2 in the bottom of the third, the Tigers exploded for six runs and sent 10 batters to the plate. Wertz opened the inning with a single. Bowles lifted a pop fly behind first base that dropped in but Katz threw to second base to get the force play on Wertz. Fratantuono doubled to centerfield to put runners on second and third with one out. Butler followed by smashing a three-run homer over the right centerfield fence.
Senior catcher Andrew Parker kept the rally alive by doubling down the left field line. When junior centerfielder Brandon Gonnella singled to left center, Parker scored to give Towson a 6-4 advantage. Junior shortstop Hunter Bennett doubled to left center to put runners on second and third. A single by Zach Fisher drove in a run to give Towson a 7-4 lead. When Fitzgerald hit a sacrifice fly, Towson upped its lead to 8-4.
The Tribe came back to score two runs with two outs in the fourth inning. Shaw singled to right to start the rally. After a walk to Katz, Lindemuth doubled to right centerfield to drive in two runs and make it an 8-6 game. Sophomore righthander Paul Beers retired catcher Ryan Hissey on a ground ball to end the inning.
With the lead cut to 8-6, the Tigers added three runs in the bottom of the fourth. Bowles led off with a walk. With one out, Butler tripled to right center to up the lead to 9-6. A sacrifice fly by Parker enabled Butler to score, giving Towson a 10-6 lead. Gonnella bunted for a hit and stole second base. After a walk to Bennett, Fisher singled to right, upping the lead to Wertz finally grounded out to end the inning.
Junior righthander Greg Baruka relieved Beers in the fifth inning and retired the Tribe without incident. In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers upped their lead to 13-6 when Fratantuono and Butler drew one-out walks. Parker singled to left to drive in a run but he was caught in a rundown between first and second base for the second out. Gonnella capped off the rally with an RBI single to right.
The Tribe exploded with five runs in the sixth inning, pulling to within 13-11. Shaw led off with a double and went to third on a single by Katz. Lindemuth’s RBI double down the rightfield line cut the lead to 13-7. With one out, Sarty reached on an error to make it 13-8. An RBI single by Shaver pulled the Tribe to within 13-9. After a walk to Derek Lowe loaded the bases for centerfielder Ryan Brown. He delivered a two-run single to drive in a pair of runs and cut the lead to 13-11. Junior lefthander Kyle Paul came in to pitch for the Tigers and he retired Shaw on a ground ball to shortstop.
In the bottom of the sixth, the Tigers’ hitters went back to work. With one out, Fitzgerald and Wertz hit back-to-back singles before a single by Bowles loaded the bases. A bases-loaded walk to Fratantuono drove in a run to give Towson a 14-11 advantage. Butler followed with a ground ball to third base. Trying to turn a double play, Lindemuth made a bad throw to first base as two runs scored to give the Tigers a 16-11 lead. After Parker was hit by a pitch, an RBI single by Gonnella gave the Tigers a 17-11 advantage. Bennett grounded out to end the rally.
Leading off the seventh inning, Katz hit a solo home run to cut the Tribe’s deficit to 17-12. Another double by Lindemuth gave the Tribe a runner on second base with no outs. However, Paul settled down and retired the next two hitters on ground balls as Lindemuth scored to make it a 17-13 game. When Paul retired Williams on a ground ball to shortstop, the Tigers went to the bottom of the seventh with a 17-13 lead.
Paul retired the Tribe in order in the eighth before the Tigers tacked on some more insurance runs in the bottom of the inning. Fratantuono was hit by a pitch leading off the inning. Another triple by Butler drove home Fratantuono with Towson’s 18th run. Parker’s RBI double scored Butler to give the Tigers a 19-13 advantage. Gonnella reached base when the Tribe made an error on his sacrifice bunt. Then, Bennett drove in the final run of the game on a ground ball to shortstop.
In the ninth inning, Katz led off and reached on an error. However, Paul induced Lindemuth to ground into a double play, the Tigers’ second double play of the game and their 78th of the season. Then, Paul nailed down the win by retiring Hissey on a ground ball to first base.
Paul picked up a win in relief for the second day in a row by pitching 3.1 innings of effective relief. He allowed two runs on three hits with no walks and one strikeout.
“We have a lot of confidence in Kyle Paul,” said Coach Gottlieb. “We trust him because he throws strikes.”
While Butler led the Tigers with three hits and six RBI’s, Parker had three hits and drove in three runs. Gonnella had four hits and had three RBI’s. Fisher and Wertz also had three hits while Fitzgerald, Fratantuono and Bennett had two hits each. Although Bowles had just one hit, he scored four runs.
The Tigers play for the CAA Championship on Saturday at 4:30 p.m.