BATON ROUGE, La. – Junior John Mullen (Walpole, Mass.) laced a two-out single to center to tie the game in the top of the ninth inning but second-seeded and ninth-ranked Houston plated an unearned run in the bottom of the 10th inning to slip by the third-seeded Bryant University baseball team on Friday night at Alex Box Stadium.
The Bulldogs (42-15) will now play an elimination game on Saturday against Southeastern Louisiana at 3:05 p.m. EST. The Lions fell to top seed and host LSU, 8-4, in Friday's first game. The Cougars (45-15), who benefited from four Bryant errors to score three uneared runs, will face the Tigers a winner's bracket game at 8:05 p.m.
Down to their final out in the ninth inning, senior Tom Gavitt (North Stonington, Conn.) singled through the left side to keep the Bulldogs' hopes alive. Freshman Matt Albanese (East Haddam, Conn.) was then summoned to pinch run and was able to take second as Houston closer Chase Wellbrock spiked a pitch in the dirt. Mullen then got himself into a 3-1 count and rocketed a single into center, scoring Albanese easily from second to tie the game at 2-2.
In the 10th, Ashford Fuller drew a leadoff walk, advanced to second on a sac bunt and over to third on a passed ball. With one out, Justin Montemayor lofted a fly ball to left field to score Fuller and send the Cougars into the winner's bracket final against LSU.
As they did last week in the Northeast Conference title game, the Bulldogs came roaring out of the gates. The first three batters – Carl Anderson (Sudbury, Mass.), Jordan Mountford (Guelph, Ont.) and AJ Zarozny (Shrewsbury, Mass.) – all roped singles, with Zarozny's laser to left scoring Anderson with the first run of the game. Bryant's scorching start, however, was cooled quickly. A strikeout and a 6-4-3 double play left the Black and Gold wanting more.
They had their chance in the third to add to the lead. Sophomore Dan Cellucci (Sudbury, Mass.) and Anderson collected back-to-back singles to start the inning and chase Houston starter Andrew Lantrip. Jared Robinson entered and got a strikeout and two-straight fly outs to end the threat. From there, Robinson was dominant, allowing one run on just two hits over 6.2 innings of relief.
Bryant starter Kevin McAvoy (Syracuse, N.Y.), meanwhile, was putting together another stellar outing in what could be his last as a Bulldog. The veteran right-hander allowed two unearned runs on three hits, walked three and struck out six over 6.2 innings. With his six strikeouts, McAvoy set the single-season record with 94, surpassing the old record of 89.
He retired eight of the first nine batters he faced before issuing a two-out walk to Kyle Survance in the third. A catcher's interference advanced Survance to second, a wild pitch moved him to third and a passed ball brought him home to tie the game.
After a quick fourth inning, McAvoy hit trouble in the fifth as a walk, single and another catchers interference loaded the bases with one out. Facing Houston's most dangerous hitter, McAvoy got Casey Grayson to ground to third and Mullen turned it into an inning-ending 5-4-3 double play.
The Cougars were able to grab the lead in the sixth thanks to another Bulldog miscue. Montemayor doubled to dead center to start the inning and then moved up to third on a sac bunt from Connor Hollis. McAvoy, however, bobbled the bunt allowing both runners to reach safely. He was able to get a 6-4-3 double play ball off the bat of Frankie Ratcliff but Montemayor scored from third to make it 2-1.
Robinson kept the lead intact as he retired 13 of the next 14 batters from the fifth inning on before Gavitt's two-out rally-starting single in the ninth. Reliever Tyler Ford earned the win, tossing a scoreless inning of relief. Sophomore Kyle Wilcox (Sandy Hook, Conn.) suffered the loss, allowing an unearned run on no hits over 1.1 innings of relief.
Anderson, Zarozny, Mullen and Cellucci paced Bryant's 10-hit attack with two hits apiece.
Bryant and Southeast Louisiana will be meeting for the first time in program history on Saturday afternoon. The Bulldogs are 4-1 in elimination games in the last two seasons.
BRYANT HEAD COACH STEVE OWENS
"We talked about what it takes to be successful at this level and at these games. I was very confident in our pitching and hitting. As it was evident, you have to take care of the baseball and limit free opportunities. We had six walks today. I am sure all of them scored. We made four errors, one on a drop pop fly, two on catcher's interference and one on a bunt that didn't hurt us. You can't give away free bases. I don't know how many runs they earned today. There weren't a lot of runs. They were hard to come by for both teams. The pitching was excellent. I am disappointed in the outcome. I thought we had a chance when we got through that last inning to keep playing for a while. We came up a little short."
"We are already done with today. We already addressed today, and it is over. We will get something to eat, shower and go to bed. Then we will wake up and eat breakfast. We will be prepared to play our game tomorrow. We have a very good senior pitcher going tomorrow. We are a resilient team that I think has only loss two days in a row twice all year. I trust them. I know they will be ready to play hard tomorrow. Hopefully, we play a good game and will still be eating BBQ on Sunday."
P Kevin McAvoy
On tonight's game with Houston…
"It was good. They're a good hitting team. Coach (Owens) told me before the game that we were going to pitch, and we were going to hit it. We didn't take care of the ball, we gave them too many base runners. Overall, it was a good game. We played hard."
3B John Mullen
On his game tying hit…
"I got up 3-1 in the count and was looking for a good pitch to hit. He left a breaking ball up. I was able to get a base hit with."