TOWSON, Md. – Junior leftfielder Kurt Wertz went four-for-five and drove in seven runs to lead the Tigers (20-17, 2-7) to their third straight win, a 15-12 victory over James Madison University (12-26, 4-8) in the opening game of their three-game Colonial Athletic Association series at John B. Schuerholz Park on Friday afternoon.
Wertz homered three times against the Dukes as he tied the school record for home runs in a game. That record was set by John Andrade in 1982 and Wertz is the ninth player to accomplish the feat. Robbie Smith (1988), Rick Milliman (1988), Steve Farling (1991), Jason Maxey (2005), Brian Conley (2008), Jason Stifler (2008) and Kevin Collins (2009) also homered three times in a game.
The Tigers, who rallied from a 6-3 deficit to win, scored a seasonal high 15 runs as they outslugged the Dukes.
The Dukes grabbed a 3-0 lead in the first inning as they strung together four hits. Junior centerfielder Kevin Husum led off with a single to left. With one, senior first baseman Matt Tenaglia drew a walk to put two runners on base. Senior second baseman Conner Brown gave the Dukes a 1-0 lead when he singled to rightfield. An error by rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono enabled Brown and Tenaglia to move into scoring position. Senior rightfielder Tyler Gregory drove in two more runs to up the lead to 3-0. Sophomore shortstop Kyle Watson kept the rally alive when he singled to put two runners on base with one out. After Gregory and Watson pulled off a double steal, righthander Kevin Ross struck out sophomore catcher Bobby San Martin for the second out. Then, Ross escaped the jam when he retired freshman designated Brett Johnson on a called third strike.
In the bottom of the first, the Tigers responded immediately. Senior centerfielder Brandon Gonnella led off with a single to left field. Then, catcher Zach Fisher hit a booming triple to right centerfield, scoring Gonnella with the Tigers’ first run of the game. Moments later, Wertz continued his torrid hitting when he blasted a two-run homer over the left field fence, his sixth home run of the season. After giving up three runs, junior righthander Chris Huffman settled down and retired the next three hitters in a row.
In the top of the third inning, the Dukes took a 6-3 lead. Tenaglia led off the inning by reaching base on a bad-hop single up the middle. When Brown was hit by a pitch, James Madison had two runners on base with no outs. On a 3-2 pitch, Gregory smashed a long home run over the right field fence, putting the Dukes ahead, 6-3.
In the bottom of the third inning, Fisher singled with one out. Then, Wertz hit his second home run of the game, a blast to right field just beyond the outstretched glove of Gregory, the rightfielder.
In the fourth inning, Ross was relieved by sophomore righthander Garrett Walther. With one out, he walked senior third baseman Ty McFarland. After McFarland reached second base on a wild pitch, Tenaglia singled to right field, giving the Dukes a 7-5 lead.
In the bottom of the fourth, the Tigers cut their deficit to 7-6 without the benefit of a base hit. Freshman third baseman Brady Policelli and junior designated hitter Brendan Butler opened the inning with back-to-back walks. Both of them moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by senior Pat Fitzgerald. When senior second baseman Hunter Bennett hit a sacrifice fly, Policelli scored to make it a 7-6 game. But, Gonnella was retired on a fly ball to centerfield, ending the threat.
With one out in the fifth inning, San Martin and Johnson hit back-to-back singles to put runners at first and third for the Dukes. A sacrifice fly by freshman leftfielder Josh Wyatt drove in a run to give the Dukes an 8-6 lead. Walther retired Husum on a fly ball to right, ending the inning.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Tigers staged their biggest rally of the season. By the time the inning was over, the Tigers had sent 15 batters to the plate and they had scored eight runs off four JMU pitchers.
Fisher led off by drawing a walk. Then, Wertz blasted his third home run of the game to left field, making the score 8-8. That enabled him to tie the Towson single game record.
Fratantuono kept the inning alive when he doubled down the rightfield line. Junior Peter Bowles sacrificed him over to third base. With the infield drawn in, Policelli singled to left, driving in the go-ahead run. Butler followed with a triple to rightfield and the Tigers led, 10-8. After Fitzgerald was hit by a pitch, the Tigers had runners at the corners. Bennett singled to left, driving in another run for an 11-8 advantage.
When Gonnella drew a walk, the Tigers had the bases loaded. A walk to Fisher on four straight pitches forced in another run and gave Towson a 12-8 lead. After Wertz popped up, Fratantuono reached on an infield error as another run scored. When Bowles was hit by a pitch, the Tigers scored another run and led, 14-8. Senior righthander Trent Cundiff finally ended the inning when he retired Policelli on a fly ball to left.
Trailing by 14-8 in the sixth, the Dukes went back to work. McFarland started the inning by reaching base when he was hit by a pitch. Tenaglia followed with a double down the right field line. A sacrifice fly by Brown scored McFarland to cut the lead to 14-9. Then, Gregory launched his second home run of the game, a two-run blast to right, pulling the Dukes to within 14-11.
At that point, senior lefthander Kyle Paul relieved Walther. After retiring Kyle Weston, he gave up a solo home run to
San Martin. That pulled JMU to within 14-12.
After Paul retired the Dukes in the sixth, he set them down in order in the seventh.
Fisher led off the Tigers’ seventh inning by drawing a walk. Then, Wertz lined a triple to right center, scoring Fisher to make it a 15-12 lead. However, Cundiff retired the next three hitters to keep the Dukes within 15-12.
In the top of the eighth, Paul retired the leadoff hitter before allowing infield single by Gregory. When Weston singled to right, Gonnella, the Tigers’ closer, came in from centerfield to pitch.
He retired San Martin on a popup to first base. Then, he got out of the jam by retiring Johnson on a ground ball back to the mound.
In the ninth inning, Gonnella retired all three hitters he faced as he nailed down his tenth save of the season. He tied the record set by Josh Squatrito in 2008.
Gregory led the Dukes with four of their 15 hits. He went four-for-five with two homers, two runs scored and seven RBI’s. Tenaglia added three hits and drove in a run while San Martin and Johnson each had two hits.
Wertz had three home runs and a triple while driving in seven runs. His 15 total bases tied the school record for total bases in a game, a mark set by Steve Farling in 1991.
Fisher went two-for-two and drew three walks. He scored four runs and had two RBI’s. Bennett also had two hits and drove in two runs.
The Tigers and the Dukes will play the second game of their series on Saturday at 2:00 p.m.