RINDGE, N.H. (May 8, 2018) – The second-seeded Franklin Pierce University baseball team left 12 men on base on Tuesday night, including six men in scoring position, which would prove costly, as the Ravens dropped a 5-3 decision in 11 innings to visiting and third-seeded Merrimack in a Northeast Division matchup in the first round of the Northeast-10 Conference Championship. Merrimack junior second baseman Anthony Garbarino provided the pivotal hit at Dr. Arthur and Martha Pappas Field, as he clubbed a two-run double in the top of the 11th to break at 3-3 tie.
With the loss, Franklin Pierce falls to 32-13-1, and the Ravens must hold their breath through the rest of the week to find out if they were selected into the NCAA Championship field, which will be announced at 10 p.m. on Sunday at ncaa.com. The Ravens were ranked fifth in the East Region a week ago. The regional field is seven teams, but each of the region's three conferences is guaranteed an automatic bid for its conference champion, which makes Franklin Pierce's situation precarious.
With the win, Merrimack improves to 27-18, and advances to the double-elimination, weekend portion of the NE10 Championship, which will be hosted by Southern New Hampshire -- the Northeast Division's top seed -- Thursday through Saturday in Manchester, N.H. The Warriors will face the Southwest Division's top seed, Le Moyne, at noon on Thursday, after the Dolphins dispatched Pace, 7-3, on Tuesday afternoon.
The missed opportunities conspired to waste an 11-strikeout performance from the Franklin Pierce starter, senior right-hander John Amendola (Wallingford, Conn.), who was making his final start on his home mound. He used 105 pitches (82 strikes) to get through 7.2 innings, allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits and did not issue a walk, but did not factor in the decision. The 11 strikeouts represented a new career high-water mark for Amendola.
Amendola was matched on the other side of the ledger by senior left-hander PJ Browne, who also did not factor in the decision. He used 104 pitches (66 strikes) to work seven innings, allowed three runs on seven hits, walked two and struck out six.
With the Ravens leading 3-2 through seven, Amendola headed back out to the mound for his eighth inning of work. Merrimack graduate student Tyler Lyne ambushed the first pitch of the inning and drove it an estimated 395 feet, just to the left of straightaway center, for his second home run of the season, to knot the game at 3-3.
Franklin Pierce got runners to first and second with one away, while looking to respond in the bottom of the eighth, but senior catcher Stephen Octave (New Windsor, N.Y.) and senior right fielder Zack Tower (Auburn, Mass.) both flew out to Lyne in center to end the threat. Both teams then went quietly in the ninth, which sent the game to extra innings.
In the top of the 10th, Merrimack got Lyne into scoring position with two outs, but then junior designated hitter Matthew Ronai bounced out to third base. In the bottom half of the 10th, the Ravens had their best chance to win the game, as they put runners on first and second with nobody out. However, senior center fielder Adam Chase (Bridgewater, Mass.) failed to get a sacrifice bunt down and then struck out, Octave flew out to center, Tower bounced into a fielder's choice and the opportunity went by the boards.
Merrimack followed with what would stand as the winning runs in the top of the 11th against senior right-hander Ryan Covelle (Medford, Mass.), who was on for his third inning of relief. Senior right fielder Matt Nicholson drove the third pitch of the inning the other way, off the fence, deep in the right-center field gap for a lead-off triple. The Ravens pulled the infield in, and Covelle got sophomore first baseman Thomas Joyce to chop a ball to shortstop, which forced Nicholson to hold at third.
After a hit batter put runners at the corners, Merrimack opted to put on the safety squeeze play. Senior catcher Ricky Smith got the bunt down, but pushed it back towards the mound. Nicholson had to hold at third again, as Smith was retired at first, leaving runners at second and third and two outs for Garbarino. In what proved to be the pivotal at-bat of the night, Garbarino fouled a pitch off, took a ball and then turned on the third pitch of the at-bat. Tower initially broke in on the ball, which wound up over his head and out to the warning track in right field for a two-run double.
Franklin Pierce got the first two men on in the last of the 11th, and then got the tying run into scoring position via a sacrifice bunt, but junior left fielder Brad Roberto (San Diego, Calif.) popped out and sophomore J.R. DiSarcina (Barnstable, Mass.) grounded out as a pinch hitter to end the ballgame.
The 11th-inning runs made a winner out of junior right-hander Garrett Hudson (3-0) out of the Merrimack bullpen. He threw three scoreless innings of relief, allowed two hits, walked one, hit a batter and struck out four. Senior left-hander Anthony Lupi would ultimately come on to record the final three outs while allowing one hit, to nail down his first save of the season.
Covelle (6-3) took the loss out of the Franklin Pierce bullpen. He also threw three innings of relief, allowed two runs on three hits, hit a batter and struck out three.
Earlier in the evening, all the previous scoring had come in the sixth inning. After five scoreless innings on both sides, Merrimack broke the ice with a pair of runs in the top of the sixth. Lyne led off with a single through the left side. Ronai followed with a bouncer to third, but the ground ball pulled Franklin Pierce senior third baseman John Friday (Southborough, Mass.) away from the bag. Neither Amendola nor sophomore shortstop Joe Napolitano (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) got over to cover, which allowed Lyne to go first-to-third on a routine groundout. Lyne would score from there on a sacrifice fly to left by Nicholson. Joyce started things again with two outs, as he singled into right-center. Senior left fielder Mike Hoalcraft was next and lifted a soft fly ball into right-center field, which fell into no man's land between the second baseman, center fielder and right fielder for a base hit. Tower fumbled with the ball while trying to pick it up, resulting in an error which allowed Joyce to come in to score.
Franklin Pierce answered with three runs in the home half of the sixth to set up the late-inning dramatics. Sophomore second baseman James Boria (Massapequa, N.Y.) doubled into the gap in right-center leading off and moved to third on a single through the left side by Napolitano. Roberto picked up an RBI as he bounced into a fielder's choice, which scored Boria and erased Napolitano at second. Friday followed and lofted a fly ball deep down the right-field line, which Nicholson nearly ran down in the right-field corner. Nicholson appeared to fight the sun at the end of his run and could not come up with the over-the-shoulder catch, as the ball went for a double to put runners at second and third. Octave later cashed them both in with a two-out, bases-loaded single into center field to give the Ravens the lead.
For more information on Franklin Pierce Athletics, please visit the official website of Franklin Pierce Athletics (http://athletics.franklinpierce.edu). Also be sure to follow the Ravens through the Department of Athletics' official Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/FranklinPierceRavens), its YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/franklinpiercesports) and its Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/FPUathletics). Fans wishing to purchase Franklin Pierce baseball apparel can do so at the Department of Athletics' online store (http://athletics.franklinpierce.edu/store).