BETHLEHEM, Pa. --- Moravian College continues its look back at its 2013-14 athletic campaign with the No. 2 highlight in the Top 10 Exciting Games & Fantastic Finishes – the baseball team's 3-2 walk off victory over No. 6 Rowan University in the final game of the 2014 regular season and the Greyhounds' school-record 32nd win of the season.
The Greyhounds and the Profs both entered the game at an overcast and cool Gillespie Field on Friday, May 9 ranked nationally in the D3basbeall.com/National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association Top 25 with Moravian ranked No. 22 and Rowan at No. 6.
The contest had implications for the NCAA Division III Tournament selection that would take place two days later. The Hounds had been the top-ranked team in the Mid-Atlantic Region for two weeks but were surpassed in the poll the day before the game by Rowan after the Profs won the New Jersey Athletic Conference Championship. Moravian did not have an automatic bid to the tournament having been the runner-up in the Landmark Conference Tournament, and the Hounds were looking for their fourth win against a nationally-ranked opponent this spring. Based on how close the teams had been in the NCAA rankings, whoever won the game was likely going to receive the top seed in the Mid-Atlantic Region in the NCAA Regional at PNC Field in Moosic the next week.
"The team was exited to play," stated Head Coach Paul Engelhardt. "We just lost the championship, and the team needed to secure our place in the NCAA tournament. The guys needed to compete well in order to regain some confidence going into the NCAA tournament. They were relaxed, but focused on playing the game."
The game didn't start well for the Greyhounds as the Profs used a walk, a bunt single, a single through the right side and a fielder's choice with a throwing error to build a 2-0 lead just four batters into the contest. Senior starting pitcher Robert Solano would get the next three batters out to keep the game at 2-0.
"I told the guys that we had nine innings of baseball left," Engelhardt recalled telling the team after the first half an inning. "It was too early to be worried at all. Relax, and play baseball."
Moravian quickly responded in the bottom half of the first inning to cut the deficit to a run, 2-1. Freshman left fielder Anthony Gaetaniello beat out a ground ball to third base for an infield single to lead off the inning. Senior second baseman Daniel Seitzinger would bunt Gaetaniello over to second base, and junior right fielder Matt Hanson followed with an RBI single up the middle.
"I think it definitely helped," Engelhardt said of scoring in the first. "I feel that is quieted Rowan down a bit. They were loud to start, but once the game settled in, they knew they were in a game."
Over the next eight innings, Solano, senior pitcher Thomas Mariano, freshman pitcher Nicolas Ampietro, sophomore pitcher Ian Carbone and senior closer Chris Soltys limited Rowan to just three hits and a pair of hit-by-pitch, and kept the Profs from scoring again.
"We got some great innings out of those five guys," commented Engelhardt. "None of them had thrown since Monday, and wouldn't throw again for another five days when the NCAA tournament started. If they each went in there and did their job, they should only give up a run or two. They pitched very well against a top team in the country."
However, the Greyhounds weren't able to crack the scoreboard either leaving single runners on base in the second, third, fourth and fifth innings.
The Hounds came to the plate trailing by a run in the bottom of the ninth as they were looking for their sixth walk off win of the year. Sophomore first baseman Charles Savite started the inning with a single to third base on an 0-1 count, and junior third baseman Ryan Luke sacrificed Savite into scoring position with a bunt back to the pitcher on the first pitch he saw.
Senior center fielder Joseph Connell headed to the plate.
"Joey is a senior captain, and the guy you want up," stated Engelhardt. "Anything can happen, and we had a right guy up at that time. He could easily tie it or win it. Joey wanted to be that guy for sure. You just keep playing the game and take the opportunities that are presented you at that time. We were in a good spot when Joey stepped up."
Connell ripped the first pitch he saw passed a diving third baseman and through the left side of the infield to put runners on the corners.
That brought junior pinch hitter Joey DiSarno to bat.
"My initial goal for the at-bat with runners on the corners and down by one run was to get Sav in and move Joey to second so he could be in scoring position," stated DiSarno. "Whether it was a bunt, or a hit, I knew I had to get the job done somehow."
Engelhardt had the same thing on his mind. "I had the bunt on for Joey DiSarno," he said. "He can handle the bat better than most, and it is a play we run frequently. He gets the bunt down; we have a tie game and a man in scoring position to win it."
On the first pitch of DiSarno's at-bat, he did square around to bunt but pulled the bat back on an inside pitch. The thigh-high pitch would carom off of the Rowan's catcher's mitt and bounced towards the Moravian dugout, far enough to have Savite scamper in from third with the tying run and move Connell into scoring position at second base.
"After the passed ball that tied up the game, my approach changed from getting a squeeze bunt down to tie the game up, to get a hit and the games over," DiSarno said.
"Once the wild pitch scored Sav, it was time to let Joey D swing it and try and win it," stated Engelhardt.
DiSarno took the next pitch over the outside portion of the plate and drilled the ball into the gap in right center field. With the ball rolling to the fence, Connell scored easily from second to win the game and set the team off down the first base line to congratulate DiSarno.
"As soon as the ball hit my bat, I knew it was going to reach the wall in right center," DiSarno exclaimed. "It's just one of those hits you can tell that no one is catching. I knew when I was still in the batter's box that I had just won the game. When I saw the right fielder and center fielder both put their heads down and run towards each other that the ball was hitting the ground. There was no need to try and go to second base. All I did was stop at first to watch Joey Connell score and then watch my team run out to me to celebrate. It also was an incredible feeling to know that with that hit, we broke the school record with wins in a season."
From the third base coaching box, Engelhardt saw the play similarly. "You knew off the bat it was well hit," he said. "After a second or two, you knew it was down and in the gap. Joey Connell scores easily on that kind of hit."
The victory was a microcosm of the Greyhounds' season that would result in the top seed in the Mid-Atlantic Region two days later.
"The team showed all year a fight in them," recalled Engelhardt. "I think to have a great year; you need to win many games in the last at bat. Ultimately it gives a great amount of confidence to the team, and puts us in a mindset that we will win no matter what inning or score. We had beaten quite a few really good teams that played in the NCAA tournament and beat them. The Rowan game just put us in a great spot heading into the NCAA tournament, and was a big win for the team and program. It was one of the bigger wins in the program."
You can check out the original game day story at http://moraviansports.com/sports/bsb/2013-14/releases/201405098hdhr0.
Top 10 Exciting Games & Fantastic Finishes of 2013-14
#10 – Field Hockey Wins Back to Back Overtime Games
#9 – Softball Walks Off in 10th to Earn Split with Catholic
#8 – Baseball Walks Off Twice to Sweep Catholic
#7 – Football Scores 52 Points in Wild Win over F&M
#6 – Baseball Sweeps Susquehanna in Two Extra Inning Walk Offs
#5 – Men's Basketball Defeats Mt. St. Mary on Half Court Buzzer Beater
#4 – Women's Basketball Tops No. 25 Scranton at Foul Lin in Final Seconds
#3 – Women's Soccer Beats Rival Muhlenberg in Overtime
#2 – Baseball Walks Off vs. No. 6 Rowan to End Regular Season
#1 – TBA