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Back on top! No. 15/21 Bulldogs win 3rd NEC Title in 4 years

Photo by: Steve McLaughlin
Photo by: Steve McLaughlin
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NORWICH, Conn. – Freshman lefthander Steve Theetge (Cicero, N.Y.) allowed two runs over six-plus innings and tournament MVP junior Cole Fabio (Mahwah, N.J.) hit a three-run home run and scored three times to lead top-seeded and the No. 15/21 Bryant University baseball team to its third Northeast Conference Championship in the last four years with an 8-3 victory over third-seeded Fairleigh Dickinson on Saturday evening at Dodd Stadium.

The Bulldogs (47-10), who never trailed in the tournament, earn the league's automatic bid to the 2016 NCAA Regionals and will learn their fate during Monday's selection show. It will air at noon on ESPNU. The Knights (28-28) were playing in their first NEC championship game since 1999 after defeating second-seeded Sacred Heart, 11-8, in Saturday's first game.

Bryant has now won NEC titles in 2013, 2014 and 2016. It is the second time the Bulldogs have gone a perfect 3-0 to capture the championship.

Fabio finished the tournament 4-for-11 (.364) with a double, home run, three RBI and seven runs scored. Fabio was joined on the all-tournament team by senior Buck McCarthy (Saugus, Mass.), junior Brandon Bingel (Peabody, Mass.) and senior AJ Zarozny (Shrewsbury, Mass.). McCarthy went 6-for-13 with six RBI, Bingel pitched the Bulldogs into the championship round and Zarozny went 5-for-11 with an RBI and two runs scored.   

After a scoreless first, the Bulldogs scored in each of next three innings. Zarozny was hit by a pitch with two outs in the second, giving Bryant its first baserunner. Sophomore Mickey Gasper (Merrimack, N.H.) followed with a sharp single to right-center that was bobbled momentarily, allowing Zarozny to motor all the way around and score from first.

In the third, Fabio walked and stole second, and freshman Nick Angelini (Bedford, N.H.) drew a two-out walk to put two on. FDU then put the shift on against senior Robby Rinn (Warwick, R.I.) and he beat it by smashing a single through the vacant left side. Fabio scored easily on the play and Rinn raced into second with a hustle double. It was his 25th double of the season, breaking the Bryant single-season record. McCarthy then made it 3-0 with a sac fly to right field.

The Black and Gold then put up three runs with one swing of the bat in the fourth. Gasper reached as the pitch he swung at for strike three got away from the catcher. Senior Zach Wood (Griswold, Conn.) then drew a walk but FDU's John Chalupa got a pop out for the second out. Fabio, however, broke the Knights' backs as he worked a full count before launching a three-run home run over the left field fence, making it 6-0.

FDU scratched across a run in the fifth but the Bulldogs tacked on two more runs in the sixth to make it 8-1. Wood got things going as he hammered a ball off the middle of the center field fence and slid headfirst into third with his first-career triple. Senior Dan Cellucci (Sudbury, Mass.) then brought him home with a sac fly. Fabio then walked, Angelini singled and Rinn made it 8-1 with a line-drive single down the right field line.

Making his first-career appearance in the NEC Tournament, Theetge shined for the Black and Gold. He allowed just two runs on five hits, walked one and struck out three over six-plus innings to improve to 9-0 on the year. Theetge stranded two with a strikeout in the first, starting a string of eight-straight retired. He allowed runs in the fifth and seventh innings.

Sophomore Justin Snyder (Georgetown, Mass.) was summoned with two on and no outs in the sixth and preceded to get a double-play ball and a weak fly to center to hold the Knights to one run. He threw the final three innings, allowing a run on two hits, to earn his 10th save of the year.

Rinn finished the game 3-for-5 with two RBI, pushing his season total to 61. Gasper also finished with multiple hits, going 2-for-4, and Wood scored two runs.

John Chalupa allowed eight runs (seven earned) on six hits over 5 2/3 innings for FDU. Ryan Brennan led the way for the Knights, going 3-for-3 with two runs scored.