TOWSON, Md. - Junior shortstop Nick Natoli smashed a grand slam home run over the left centerfield fence to highlight an 11-run rally in the eighth inning as the Tigers (17-34) rallied to surprise George Washington University (24-24) with a 17-8 come-from-behind non-conference victory at John B. Schuerholz Park on Wednesday afternoon.
Trailing by 8-6 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, the Tigers sent 16 batters to the plate as they scored 11 runs on only five base hits. In the decisive eighth inning, the Tigers took advantage of seven walks by four different Colonial pitchers, two wild pitches and an infield error.
With the victory, the Tigers swept the two-game season series from George Washington for the second year in a row. Last month, the Tigers edged the Colonials, 6-5. Towson has now beaten GW five times in a row and the Tigers have won eight of the last ten games against GW.
The victory also ended the Tigers' six-game losing streak.
Leading off the bottom of the eighth inning, sophomore centerfielder Ben Winter singled to centerfield. After Winter stole second base, Natoli hit a sharp ground ball to senior third baseman Chris Holland. Holland made a great stop on the ball but he made a bad throw to first base and Natoli was safe on the throwing error.
Then, freshman righthander Raj Dharmapal, the Colonials' fourth pitcher of the game, walked senior rightfielder Kevin Collins to load the bases with no outs.
Junior righthander Tommy Gately was summoned from the bullpen to relieve Dharmapal after the walk to Collins. When he walked junior second baseman Chris Wychock on a 3-2 pitch, Winter scored to make it an 8-7 game. Junior designated hitter Steve Rice drew another bases-loaded walk to force in another run as Natoli scored the tying run.
Gately got the first out of the inning when he struck out junior third baseman Austin Harclerode. However, while pitching to freshman leftfielder Kurt Wertz, Gately threw a wild pitch as Collins scored the go-ahead run, giving the Tigers a 9-8 lead. When Wertz drew a walk, the Tigers had the bases loaded again.
After the walk to Wertz GW Coach Steve Mrowka went to his bullpen again and brought in sophomore righthander Marshall Seedorff. While pitching to freshman catcher Andrew Parker, Seedorff threw another wild pitch as Wychock scored to up the Tigers' lead to 10-8. Parker walked on four pitches, loading the bases once again.
Freshman first baseman Cody Reeves grounded into a force play as Rice scored to give Towson an 11-8 advantage. Sophomore lefthander Stephen Oswald, who had been the Colonials' designated hitter for most of the game, relieved Seedorff as Winter, the tenth man to bat in the inning, came up to the plate.
When Winter drew a walk on four pitches, the Tigers had the bases loaded again. On the first pitch, Natoli blasted a long home run over the left centerfield fence for the first grand slam homer of his career, a shot that gave Towson a 15-8 lead. It was Natoli's second home run of the season and only the seventh homer of his career.
Collins kept the rally going when he doubled to left centerfield. Wychock drove in the tenth run of the inning when he blasted a triple to centerfield, scoring Collins. A double by Rice down the rightfield line drove in Wychock to give Towson a 17-8 advantage.
With his 22-game hitting streak on the line, Harclerode came up to the plate. However, he was walked on a 3-1 pitch to put two runners on base as his streak came to an end.
Harclerode's 22-game hitting streak was tied for the fourth-longest hitting streak in school history.
The inning finally came to an end when Wertz was retired on a fly ball to right centerfield.
The Tigers, who trailed by 8-2 in the fifth inning, received an outstanding relief effort from junior righthander Charlie Cononie. Cononie, who earned his first win of the season, came into the game with the Tigers facing an 8-5 deficit in the sixth inning. He pitched three shutout innings, allowing two hits with one walk and five strikeouts, enabling the Tigers to come from behind and win.
With the help of his defense, sophomore righthander Sean Bertrand worked out of a first inning jam for the Tigers. After walking the leadoff hitter, senior shortstop Tom Zebroski, on four pitches, he gave up a single to freshman second baseman Paul Pakan. But, Bertrand came back and retired senior first baseman Chris Luick on a line drive to rightfield. Bertrand escaped the jam with the help of the Tiger infield. Holland hit a ground ball to Natoli, who turned it into an inning-ending double play.
By holding the Colonials scoreless in the first inning, it was the first time in ten games that the Tigers did not allow a first inning run.
In the bottom of the first inning, the Tigers rallied to take a 1-0 lead. Winter led off the frame with a single to centerfield. After Natoli flew out, Collins lined a single to left centerfield as Winter advanced to third base. Wychock gave the Tigers a lead when he blooped a single inside the rightfield line, allowing Winter to score. With runners on first and second, freshman righthander Justin Albright pitched out of the inning by retiring Rice on a fly ball to left and striking out Harclerode.
The Tigers' 1-0 lead did not last long. Leading off the second inning for the Colonials, junior centerfielder Brendon Kelliher smacked an opposite field home run inside the right field foul line to tie the game. It was Kelliher's 12th home run of the season and briefly tied him with Zebroski for the team lead.
Oswald followed with a single to centerfield before Bertrand struck out senior leftfielder Jon Chirumbolo. After Oswald moved to second base on a wild pitch, freshman rightfielder Tyler McCarthy lined a double to right centerfield, scoring Oswald. When freshman catcher Robbie Haben drew a walk, the Colonials had runners on first and second base.
Moments later, Zebroski launched a three-run homer over the left field fence, giving the Colonials a 5-1 lead and knocking Bertrand out of the game. Zebroski's home run was his 13th of the season as he regained the team lead for home runs.
Sophomore righthander Tyler Austin came out of the bullpen to relieve Bertrand and retired the side.
In the fourth inning, the Colonials added to their 5-1 lead with a two-out rally. With two outs, Zebroski tripled to deep right centerfield. Pakan's double down the left field line drove home Zebroski to give the Colonials a 6-1 advantage. After a walk to Luick, Austin retired the side by getting Holland to hit into a force play.
The Tigers trimmed their deficit to 6-2 in the bottom of the fourth when Wertz blasted his sixth home run of the season over the left centerfield fence.
The Colonials added two more runs in the top of the fifth inning despite a base-running mistake. Kelliher led off the inning with a single up the middle. When Oswald reached base on an error by Wychock, GW had two runners on base with no outs. With both runners moving on the pitch, Chirumbolo hit a popup to Wychock, who turned it into an unassisted double play as Oswald was trapped off first base.
The base-running mistake cost the Colonials a run when McCarthy cracked his second home run of the season over the left field fence, upping the advantage to 8-2.
In the bottom of the fifth inning, the Tigers rallied to get back in the game.
Natoli led off by reaching base on a bunt single. With one out, Wychock drew a walk to give the Tigers runners on first and second base. Moments later, Rice drilled a ground rule double down the left field line, scoring Natoli to make it an 8-3 lead. A sacrifice fly by Harclerode enabled Wychock to score, cutting the deficit to 8-4. After the sacrifice fly, freshman lefthander Kenny O'Brien was summoned from the bullpen to pitch for the Colonials.
Wertz kept the rally going with an infield single to second base. Running hard all the way, Rice scored from second base to pull the Tigers to within 8-5. Parker followed with a single before a walk to Reeves loaded the bases with two outs. However, O'Brien pitched out of the jam by striking out Winter on three pitches, ending the inning.
After Cononie pitched a scoreless sixth inning for the Tigers, Towson staged another rally in the bottom of the sixth inning.
Natoli led off the inning with a double down the leftfield line. When O'Brien walked Collins, the Tigers had two runners on base with no outs. Wychock was called out on strikes for the first out. After Natoli and Collins pulled off a double steal, Rice singled to left field, scoring Natoli as Collins advanced to third base.
Dharmapal was called on to relieve O'Brien after the single by Rice. He did a great job escaping the jam by getting Harclerode to hit into an inning-ending double play.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, Parker was hit by a pitch. Once again, Dharmapal pitched out of the inning by getting Reeves to ground into a double play.
The Tigers, who outhit George Washington by a 17-13 margin, were led by Winter, Natoli, Collins and Rice, who each had three hits. Winter was three-for-five with a walk and scored three runs. Natoli went three-for-six with four runs scored and four runs batted in. Collins was three-for-four with a double, a triple and two runs scored. He also drew a pair of walks. Rice was three-for-five with two doubles and four runs batted in.
Wychock added two hits, scored three runs and had three RBI's. He was also walked three times. Wertz had two hits, scored two runs and drove in two runs.
In addition to banging out 17 hits, the Tigers drew 12 walks from Colonial pitchers.
Zebroski, who leads the Atlantic-10 Conference with a .417 batting average, led GW with two hits and three RBI's. He had a triple and three-run homer. McCarthy also had a pair of hits and drove in three runs. Pakan, Luick and Kelliher also contributed two hits each.
While Cononie earned his first win of the season, junior righthander Drew Permison closed out the victory by pitching a scoreless ninth inning.
The Tigers will have six days off for exams before they resume their five-game home stand against West Virginia University on Tuesday, May 18 at 3:00 p.m. at Schuerholz Park.