I visited Springfield today and caught the noon game at Western New England before heading down the road to AIC for the end of their Southwest Division contest with Adelphi. It was a beautiful day, and two one-run games made for great baseball. Here’s what I saw at Trelease Park and Bedard Field.
RPI 5, Western New England 4
It’s not often you see this good a non-conference matchup on the weekend, but both Western New England and RPI had byes from league play. Coming in, WNE had won 4 of 5 and was in the clubhouse at 11-5 in the CCC. Guaranteed a top-two seed, they didn’t have much scoreboard-watching to do (Endicott ended up locking up the regular-season title and #1 seed with a split against Roger Williams). RPI, members of New York’s Liberty League, started the day safely in a playoff spot coming off a four-game split with nationally regarded Clarkson.
Both teams started weekend guys. The Golden Bears’ Trevor Breton (2-2, 4.83) matched up against RPI’s Jared Jensen (3-2, 3.16). With RPI leading 5-1 after 2.5, it looked early on like it’d be Jensen’s day. Batting second, he helped his own cause with an RBI triple and two runs scored in the early going. An outfield error in the 3rd helped a string of RPI singles give them a four-run lead.
Credit WNE, though, they had a very disciplined offensive game to cut the lead to 5-4 with single runs in the 3rd, 4th, and 5th. Walk-groundout-error-Dan Morin single in the 3rd, double-fly out-Matt Anziano sac fly in the 4th, double-error-sac bunt-Connor Hayes groundout in the 5th. Some of the best situational hitting I’ve seen this season, placing groundouts and getting pitches in the air whenever they had to– Dan Gomez’s team looked good in these middle innings.
It took a clutch relief outing from the Engineers’ Adam Aponte to keep them from coming all the way back. Jensen started the 6th, but after a throwing error put the tying run on third with nobody gone, Karl Steffen went to the pen for the sophomore righty. Facing WNE’s 1-2-3 hitters, Aponte proceeded to strike out the side to preserve the one-run lead, with some blocks in the dirt and good pitch-calling from defensive replacement Mike Croke helping along the way. Aponte ran into trouble in the 7th after an infield hit and a ball the center fielder lost in the sun, but once again, he bore down and got the outs to give RPI the win.
It’s a good win for RPI, their 17th of the season and one that might help them break into the New York regional rankings. It was a game the Golden Bears could’ve had with some timely hitting against Aponte, but RPI’s early lead proved too much. Still, after winning the back end later that afternoon, they head into their final tune-ups for the CCC Tournament as winners of 5 of 7.
On a side note, you’ve gotta love WNE’s Trelease Park. Freshly painted chairbacked bleachers, an indoor press box, accessible parking, spacious dugouts, berm seating in the outfield for the students. Add that to a gorgeous new clubhouse, and you’ve got one of the best D3 facilities in the region.
AIC 4, Adelphi 3
After WNE’s game went final, I took the short drive to AIC to catch the end of their crucial Southwest Division matchup with Adelphi. I arrived just after they tied the score at 1 in the 6th and caught most of the game’s action. The Yellow Jackets had just driven Panthers starter TJ Santiago from the game, and they soon touched the Adelphi bullpen for more. The momentum from two leadoff baserunners was negated by a botched bunt, but the heart of AIC’s order came through. After a double-steal and a walk loaded the bases, Dave Clark got hit by a pitch, bringing home the go-ahead run. It was freshman cleanup man Chris Starcun who came through the biggest, however, lining a two-RBI single to center to put AIC up 4-1. Those runs would matter.
AIC’s Colin Sledzik worked a gem into the 8th, but an error and a double to start the 9th saw him lifted for Jeff Kraucunas. The junior gave up a two-RBI single to Donato Signore, who was promptly sacrificed to second to put the tying run in scoring position. Nick Callini went back to the pen for Michael Gentile. Facing the heart of the AU order, the sophomore lefty delivered. He got three-hole man Nick Zito to fly out to center, and a strong throw from Clark held Signore at second. Gentile fell behind the cleanup man and ended up giving him first, but he got Robert Vani to line out to right to end the game.
The win is a big one for AIC in a tight Southwest Division. It lifts them into fifth at 6-7. That’s ahead of Le Moyne and Saint Rose, one game better in the loss column than 8-8 SCSU, and within striking distance of 7-5 Adelphi and New Haven, their two opponents in their final five divisional games. It’ll be a tight race, but AIC’s peaking at the right time, and they’ve got a real shot at their first playoff appearance in years.
On a different note, AIC’s designated hitter Lucas Vallas had a walk and an RBI in the win. If you’ve got a few minutes, take a look at this feature on him from a couple weeks back. He was diagnosed with cancer after his freshman season and has worked all the way back to the heart of AIC’s lineup. Truly incredible.