NEW BRITAIN, CONN. – The Monmouth University baseball team captured its fourth Northeast Conference Championship, with a 14-8 victory over No. 2 seed Sacred Heart, on Saturday afternoon, in the 2009 NEC Championship presented by Akadema, at New Britain Stadium.
Monmouth, which trailed 7-0 in the third inning, rallied with 10 unanswered runs over a four-inning span, while the bullpen allowed just one unearned run over the final six innings, en route to the victory.
Monmouth, which improved to 32-23 overall with the victory, earned its fourth NCAA Tournament berth, as senior second baseman Chris Collazo was named Tournament MVP, and was joined on the All-Tournament Team by senior Brett Holland, sophomore Ryan Terry and freshman pitcher Matt Goitz.
Goitz, who worked just three innings during the regular season, tossed 4.1 frames for Monmouth, scattering six hits, with two strikeouts and no walks, to earn his first career victory.
The Hawks, who have now collected double-digit hits in 33 games on the year, pounded out 21 hits, as Terry and Collazo each notched four hits, while Nick Pulsonetti, Bobby Dombrowski and Josh Boyd added three hits each. Freshman outfielder, David Jacob added a double and a triple and three RBI as well.
Sacred Heart collected three runs on four hits in the opening inning, as Mike Drowne’s infield single, coupled by Phil Tantillo’s double to the leftfield gap, put a pair of runners in scoring position against starter Kyle Breese, to lead things off. With no outs, Jeff Hanson drilled a two-strike double to center for the two-run advantage, and Robert Griffith’s fielder’s choice inflated the edge to 3-0.
Singles up the middle by Terry and Collazo, coupled with a throwing error by the SHU catcher, advanced two runners into scoring position with two out, but sophomore Matt Fitton struck out Paul Bottigliero to end the Monmouth threat in the first.
Steve Tedesco dropped down a bunt single with one away in the top of the second, and after a steal of second, Tedesco raced around on Drowne’s RBI single to left, giving SHU a 4-0 lead. Tantillo then followed with a run-scoring single to right for the five run edge, knocking Breese from the game.
Three consecutive, two-out, singles from Dombrowski, Boyd and Holland started a rally for the Hawks in the bottom of the second, but Dombrowski was gunned down at the plate by Drowne on Holland’s single to center, maintaining the five run lead for the Pioneers.
A bloop single to right, a wild pitch and a sacrifice bunt put a Pioneer runner at third with one away in the top of the third, before another wild pitch by reliever Nick Vallillo allowed Ryan Lynch to scamper across with Sacred Heart’s sixth run. Paul Schmidt, who followed with a triple off the top of the rightfield fence, which knocked Vallillo from the contest, crossed home on Drowne’s sac fly to right, as SHU corralled a 7-0 lead.
Singles from Terry and Pulsonetti, and Bottigliero’s fourth hit-by-pitch of the tournament, loaded the bases for Monmouth in the bottom of the third, with one away. With the bags packed, Jacob lifted a sac fly to left, pulling the Hawks within 7-1.
In the bottom of the fourth frame, Monmouth rallied with five runs, to pull within a single score. Dombrowski and Holland each singled, and after a wild pitch moved both runners up, Terry walked to load the bases for Monmouth for a second straight inning. Pulsonetti, who delivered the game-winning RBI in game two, followed with a two-run single through the left side, pulling the Hawks within 7-3. Collazo, who increased his career-high RBI total to 45, laced a run-scoring single to trim the lead to two runs, and Jacob followed with an RBI double to the leftfield corner, as Monmouth pulled within 7-6, knocking SHU starter Fitton from the game.
Chris Barthal, SHU’s game one starter, needed one pitch to get the Pioneers out of the inning, clinging to the one-run lead.
Sacred Heart opened the sixth inning with consecutive singles, and after Monmouth was unable to turn a double-play, the Pioneers had runners at the corners with one out. With two on, Goitz, who entered the game in the third inning, struck out Heppner and ended the threat with a groundout.
Monmouth climbed all the way back in the home half of the sixth, as the Hawks batted around in the frame, plating four runs on five hits, and an error. Terry opened the inning with a double to right centerfield, and came around with the game-tying run, on Collazo’s RBI single to right field, as the Hawks knotted the score at 7-7. After a wild pitch allowed Collazo to move into scoring position, Jacob delivered an RBI triple down the right field line, for an 8-7 Monmouth lead. The Hawks went in front 9-7 on the next at-bat as Jamie Rosenkranz laced a shot at the third baseman, which was booted, allowing Jacob to cross for a two-run lead.
Dombrowski followed with a run-scoring double to left center off Jared Balbach, SHU’s starter in yesterday’s game, on the second pitch, inflating the Hawks’ lead to 10-7.
Senior Tim Ballard, who entered the game with a runner on first and two outs in the seventh, surrendered a first-pitch single, but a throwing error by the Monmouth shortstop allowed SHU to pull within 10-8.
The Hawks got the run back in the bottom of the seventh as Pulsonetti ripped a shot off the left centerfield fence, which got away from the centerfielder, allowing the designated hitter to race around for an inside the park home run. Pulsonetti’s 11th homer of the season, put the Hawks back in front by three runs, 11-8.
Monmouth tacked on three insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth, as Boyd delivered a two-run single up the middle, and Terry added an RBI double to the rightfield gap, for a 14-8 advantage.
Sophomore Nick McNamara retired the side in order in the top of the eighth, while Brett Brach pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the victory.
Breese, in his 12th start of the season, and second career NEC Tournament start, worked just 1.3 innings, allowing five runs on seven hits. Vallillo worked one inning, allowing two runs on two hits.
Collazo, who now has 87 hits on the season, two shy of tying the program's single-season record, now has 246 career base hits, one away of tying the school-record of 247. Collazo, who now has 87 hits on the season, two shy of tying the program's single-season record, now has 246 career base hits, one away of tying the school-record of 247. Batting cleanup, Collazo went for 4-for-5 with two runs and two RBI in the title-clinching game. The all-NEC second baseman hit .600 (9-for-15) and drove in six runs over the three-game span.
Monmouth, which last advanced to an NCAA Regional in 2007, became the first NEC to make it through the conference tournament unscathed since the 2006 Sacred Heart squad.
The championship gives Monmouth the NEC’s automatic berth into the NCAA Field of 64. The Hawks will now await the NCAA Selection Show, which will air on ESPN at 12:30 pm EST on May 25, to find out their NCAA Regional destination.