HARRISONBURG, Va. – Junior first baseman Brent Mikionis had three hits and drove in five runs as fifth-seeded Virginia Commonwealth University (34-24) overcame an early 3-0 deficit to post a 14-9 victory over the sixth-seeded Tigers (27-31) in an elimination game at the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament at Veterans' Memorial Park on Thursday evening.
Playing their third CAA Tournament game in 25 hours, the Tigers fell to VCU in a game that ended well after midnight in the CAA Tournament. It marked the second night in a row that Towson finished a game after midnight as the Tigers rode an emotional roller coaster over a 28-hour period.
On Wednesday night, the Tigers squandered a 7-1 fourth inning lead and dropped an 8-7, 12-inning decision to third-seeded Delaware. Less than ten hours later, Towson bounced back with an inspired effort and a 16-8 victory over fourth-seeded George Mason on Thursday morning. It was the first of four CAA Tournament games that was played on Thursday.
At 9:15 p.m., the Tigers faced VCU in an elimination game. The Rams had lost to top-seeded UNC Wilmington on Thursday afternoon, 8-5.
“It is disappointing that we couldn’t have won a few more games,” said Coach Mike Gottlieb. “But this team overcame so much adversity. We lost two of our top pitchers midway through the season and kept on battling. We came into the tournament and with a little bit of luck, we could have been 2-0 and playing in the winner’s bracket.
“Coming back from that loss to Delaware last night was very impressive,” he added. “We came out here this morning and played a good game against Mason. In the end, we just didn’t have enough pitching.”
In their fourth game of the season against VCU, the Tigers got off to a fast start against junior righthander Kyle Haynes. For the third consecutive CAA Tournament game, the Tigers scored in the first inning. With one out, junior third baseman Zach Fisher reached base when he was hit by a pitch. After Haynes struck out sophomore leftfielder Kurt Wertz, freshman first baseman Brendan Butler singled to third base on a hit-and-run play as Fisher advanced to third base. On a 1-1 pitch, sophomore rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono blasted a long home run over the right field fence, giving Towson a 3-0 lead. It was Fratantuono’s fourth homer of the season – but it was his first since March 18.
In the second inning, VCU came back to tie the game with a three-run home run off sophomore lefthander Kyle Paul. Sophomore designated hitter Chris Ayers led off the inning with a double to rightfield. When freshman shortstop Vimael Machin singled to center, Ayers advanced to third base.
Moments later, junior first baseman Brent Mikionis launched a monstrous home run over the left field fence, a three-run shot that tied the game. After a single by senior leftfielder Paul Nice, the Tigers got out of the inning when junior centerfielder Bill Cullen grounded into a double play.
In the bottom of the third inning, VCU rallied for four runs to take a 7-3 lead. The Rams sent eight batters to the plate and knocked Paul out of the game. Junior second baseman Jordan Weymouth opened the inning with a walk. After sophomore third baseman Joey Cujas was retired on a fly ball to right, junior rightfielder Taylor Buran singled to left. When Ayers hit a line drive to centerfield and senior Ben Winter tried to make a diving catch, confusion ensued. Although it appeared that Winter made the catch, it was ruled a trap by the umpires. Both VCU runners were caught between bases and Winter threw out Weymouth at third base for an unusual force play.
With runners on first and second, Machin gave VCU a 4-3 lead when he singled to rightfield, scoring Buran with the go-ahead run. Machin went to second base on the throw to the plate while Ayers reached third.
After the single by Machin, freshman righthander Nick Cioffi came on to relieve Paul. Mikionis greeted him with a line single to centerfield, driving in two runs to put VCU ahead, 6-3. Then, senior catcher Taylor Perkins lined a triple to rightfield, scoring Mikinois to increase the lead to 7-3. Cioffi finally escaped the inning by striking out Nice.
With one out in the fourth inning, Fratantuono lined an opposite field home run over the left field fence to cut the Tigers’ deficit to 7-4. For Fratantuono, it marked the first two-homer game of his career.
With one out in the bottom of the fourth, Weymouth singled for the Rams. However, Cujas grounded into an inning-ending double play. It was the Tigers’ eighth double play of the CAA Tournament.
In the top of the sixth inning, Fisher led off with the Tigers’ fourth hit, a single to centerfield. However, he was thrown out trying to steal second base. After Haynes struck out Wertz, Butler and Fratantuono drew back-to-back walks. However, Haynes struck out junior catcher Andrew Parker to end the threat.
Cioffi, who had pitched an inning of relief in the Tigers’ over George Mason earlier in the day, retired eight batters in a row when he recorded the first out of the seventh inning. He showed signs of tiring when he issued a walk to Weymouth. Cujas singled to centerfield before Buran reached base on an infield single. With the bases loaded and one out, Ayers hit a soft ground ball to third base. Fisher made a nice play on the run and threw him out at first as Weymouth scored to give VCU an 8-4 advantage.
Machin extended VCU’s lead to 10-4 when he lined a two-run single to centerfield. Mikionis followed with his third hit, a single before Perkins’ RBI single gave the Rams an 11-4 advantage. After the single by Perkins, Cioffi was relieved by junior righthander Sean Bertrand. He retired Nice on a ground ball to shortstop.
In the bottom of the eighth, the Rams padded their lead with three more runs. Cullen led off with a single to left field before Bertrand issued a walk to Weymouth on a 3-2 pitch. Three pitches later, Cujas belted a three-run homer to left centerfield as he gave VCU a 14-4 lead.
Those extra runs proved to be very important when the Tigers rallied in the top of the ninth inning. Fratantuono led off with a walk and moved into scoring position on defensive indifference. With one out, sophomore second baseman Pat Fitzgerald singled to shortstop as Fratantuono scored to cut the lead to 14-5. Fitzgerald advanced to second base on defensive indifference and reached third on a wild pitch by Haynes. A sacrifice fly by Winter scored Fitzgerald to trim the lead to 14-9.
Down to their final out, the Tigers refused to go quietly. Pinch hitter Kurtis Voytell kept the season going with a single to left. He was replaced by pinch runner Mike Draper. Sophomore designated hitter Brandon Gonnella lined a single to centerfield as Draper reached third base.
After the single by Gonnella, lefthander Chris Shaklee relieved Haynes. On a 3-1 pitch, Fisher blasted a three-run homer to rightfield and the Rams’ lead was down to 14-9. Wertz reached base when he was hit by a pitch. However, Shaklee nailed down the win by retiring Butler on a fly ball to centerfield.
Haynes, who beat the Tigers for the second time this season, earned his fourth win of the season by pitching 8.2 innings. He allowed eight earned runs on nine hits and threw 154 pitches. He walked three and struck out six as he evened his record at 4-4.
Paul suffered the loss as he threw 2.2 innings and allowed six runs on seven hits with one walk and no strikeouts. Cioffi pitched four innings and gave up five runs on eight hits with one walk and two strikeouts.
The Rams outhit Towson by a 17-10 margin. Cujas, Machin and Mikionis each had three base hits. Cujas went three-for-five with two runs scored and three RBI’s. Machin scored three runs and had three RBI’s while Mikionis was three-for-four with five RBI’s. Buran and Perkins each had two hits.
Fisher and Fratantuono led the Tigers’ offense. Fisher went two-for-four with two runs scored and three RBI’s. Fratantuono was two-for-two with three runs scored and four RBI’s as he homered twice.
Fisher and Fratantuono had outstanding performances at the CAA Tournament. Fisher batted .500 with five runs scored, one double, one triple, a home run and six runs batted. Fratantuono was four-for-five (.800) in three games with six walks and one hit batsman. He also had a .917 on-base percentage.
The Tigers also played outstanding defense with a .992 fielding percentage. Towson made only one error in 125 fielding chances and turned eight double plays.
Towson finished the season with a .971 fielding percentage, setting a school record.