NORWICH, Conn. – Senior right-hander Craig Schlitter (Guilford, Conn.) tossed complete game, three-hit shutout and sophomore Buck McCarthy (Saugus, Mass.) homered to break a scoreless tie in the eighth inning to propel the Bryant University baseball into the Northeast Conference championship game with a 3-0 victory over Central Connecticut on Friday afternoon at Dodd Stadium.
The victory pushes the Bulldogs (41-14) into the NEC title game for the second-straight season, while the Blue Devils (27-21) will have to face Sacred Heart for a chance to face the Black and Gold again. CCSU and SHU will play at noon and Bryant will face the winner at 4:15 p.m. The "if necessary" game is scheduled for Sunday at noon.
In one of the biggest games of his career, Schlitter continued his dominance of the Blue Devils. The veteran righty allowed just three hits, struck out eight and didn't walk a batter to improve to 10-1 on the season. Locked in a pitcher's duel with CCSU starter Tom Coughlin, Schlitter picked off a runner in the first and got a ground ball to short to strand runners on first and third in the second.
Schlitter needed his best stuff to get out of a third-inning jam and keep the game scoreless. JP Sportman singled with one out and then advanced all the way to third on an errant pickoff throw. Schlitter buckled down, striking out Franklin Jennings swinging and getting Anthony Turgeon to ground out to short to strand Sportman at third.
After that, Schlitter dominated, allowing just one more baserunner – a two-out single from Turgeon in the sixth – to earn his second shutout of the Blue Devils on the season. Turgeon was gunned down trying to steal second for the final out of the inning and Schlitter proceeded to retired the final nine batters in a row.
In two starts against the Blue Devils this season, Schlitter went 2-0 and didn't allow a run in 16 innings, surrendering just eight hits, walking three and striking out 32. In his career, Schlitter finished 4-0 with a 0.81 ERA and 32 strikeouts in 33.1 innings against CCSU.
Coughlin, however, matched Schlitter pitch-for-pitch for the first seven innings. He used a double play ball to get out of the first and didn't allow a hit until sophomore AJ Zarozny (Shrewsbury, Mass.) singled with one out in the fourth. Coughlin went on to retire 11 of the next 12 batters but the Bulldogs were finally able to get to him in the eighth.
Leading off the eighth, McCarthy walloped a first-pitch slider deep over the left field wall to give the Bulldogs a 1-0 lead. It was his fourth home run of the season. Freshmen Matt Albanese (East Haddam, Conn.) and Cole Fabio (Mahwah, N.J.) followed with back-to-back walks and an intentional walk to junior Jordan Mountford (Guelph, Ont.) loaded the bases with one out. Zarozny then stepped to the plate and lofted a fly ball to right to score a second run.
The Bulldogs tacked on an insurance run in the ninth. McCarthy was hit by a pitch and Albanese and Fabio followed with back-to-back singles to bring home the third run of the game.
The bottom four batters in Bryant's lineup – McCarthy, Albanese, Fabio, Cellucci – combined for five hits, two RBI and all three runs scored. Coughlin suffered the loss, allowing two runs on three hits with six strikeouts.
Bryant will face the winner of Central Connecticut and Sacred Heart at 4:15 p.m. on Saturday.