LAKEWOOD, N.J. – Sophomore right fielder Jordan Mountford (Guelph, Ont.) had three hits and drove in three runs to propel the Bryant University baseball team past Sacred Heart, 6-3, on Saturday and force a winner-take-all championship game for Sunday at FirstEnergy Park.
The victory, the Bulldogs' (43-16-1) third-straight elimination game victory, forces the "if necessary" game with the Pioneers (34-23) on Sunday at 12:00 p.m. Bryant also tied a school record with its 43rd victory of the season. The loss is the first tournament defeat for Sacred Heart since the 2010 season.
Sacred Heart was able to score the first run on Saturday, plating a run in the third inning. John Murphy worked a one-out walk and Dan Perez singled through the left side to put two runners on base. Jesus Medina followed with a chopper up the middle that took an erratic bounce and got away from Muscatello, allowing Murphy to score from second. Senior Joseph Michaud (Milford, Conn.) avoided further damage by snaring a comebacker off the bat of Keaton Flint and starting an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play.
Held in check for the first four innings, the Bulldogs broke through in the fifth off of SHU starter Derek Stoddard. Freshman Robby Rinn (Warwick, R.I.) singled to left-center to start the inning and junior Jonathan Scott (Princeton, N.J.) followed with a sac bunt. Stoddard came off the mound to field the bunt and decided to go to second but threw it into center to put two runners on. Mountford then came through in the clutch, pummeling a 2-2 pitch into the right-center gap for a two-run triple that gave Bryant its first lead, 2-1. Freshman AJ Zarozny (Shrewsbury, Mass.) then lofted a fly ball to deep center to score Mountford and push the lead to 3-1.
The Pioneers nearly erased the deficit in their very next at-bat as they put two runners on with no outs in the sixth. Medina and Flint greeted sophomore reliever Trevor Lacosse (Watervliet, N.Y.) with consecutive singles and a sac bunt moved them into scoring position. Lacosse buckled down, getting a line drive to short for the second out before striking out pinch-hitter Rocco Gondek with a high fastball to end the inning.
Bryant got the bats going again in its very next at-bat, scoring three runs in the sixth. Stoddard retired the first two batters of the inning but Rinn hammered a single through the right side to start a two-out rally. The hit started a string of five-straight singles for the Black and Gold that plated three runs. Scott singled up the middle to put runners on the corners and Mountford singled through the right side to make it 4-1. Zarozny and Brown then followed with RBI singles to push the Bryant leads to 6-1.
Sacred Heart was finally able to cut into the Bryant lead in the top of the seventh. A hit batter and a walk put the first two runners on base before Murphy popped up to short for the first out. Perez followed with a single through the right side to make it 6-2 and another hit batter loaded the bases. Senior Salvatore Lisanti (Bronx, N.Y.) was summoned from the bullpen and struck out Flint for the second out. Jayson Sullivan, however, chopped a 1-2 pitch to deep short and beat it out at first to score a run and make it 6-3. Lisanti escaped further damage as he induced a ground ball to third.
Making his first start in nearly a month, Michaud was dominant in five innings. The right-hander allowed just one unearned run on one hit and struck out eight. Michaud struck out two in the first to leave a runner on second and then worked out of a bases-loaded jam in the second. Two hit batters and a walk loaded the bases with two outs but sophomore Daniel St. George (Shelton, Conn.) made a nice play up the middle to get the force out at second and end the threat. After allowing his only run in the third, Michaud responded by striking out five of the last seven hitters he faced.
After coming on in the seventh, Lisanti earned his 10th save of the season with 2.2 scoreless innings of relief. He worked around a leadoff walk in the eighth and then struck out the final batter of the game to send the tournament to a deciding game. Offensively, Mountford led the way with three RBI and two runs scored. Zarozny finished with two hits and two RBI and Rinn and Scott both scored a pair of runs.
The Bulldogs and Pioneers will now play for the NEC title and a trip to the NCAA tournament on Sunday. First pitch is scheduled for 12:00 p.m.