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Top-seeded Bulldogs upended in first game of NEC Tournament

Steve McLaughlin Photography
Steve McLaughlin Photography

NORWICH, Conn. – The Bryant University baseball team put two on with no outs in the bottom of the ninth but Sacred Heart's Baylor Sundahl struck out the next three batters as the fourth-seeded Pioneers hung on to knock off the top-seeded Bulldogs, 3-2, on Friday afternoon in the first game of the Northeast Conference Baseball Championships at Dodd Stadium.

With the loss, the Bulldogs (29-25) fall into the losers bracket and will face the loser of Friday's second game between second-seeded Central Connecticut and third-seeded Wagner on Saturday afternoon at 3:00 p.m. The Pioneers will play at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday against the winner of the CCSU/Wagner game. It is the third time in five years the Bulldogs have lost the first game of the tournament. They have advanced to the championship round both times.

Trailing by one in the ninth, freshman Gaby Cruz (Miami, Fla.) lined one into right center and hustled into second with a leadoff double. Sophomore Tyler Panno (Rivervale, N.J.) was then hit by a pitch to put two on with no outs, forcing Sacred Heart to bring in Sundahl. The righty got the first out on a foul bunt on an 0-2 pitch and then struck out the next two batters to close the door.

The Pioneers struck first in the fourth as PJ DeFilippo led off with a solo home run to left center. It would be the only scoring until Sacred Heart added two unearned runs in the seventh to make it 3-0. Cody Doyle reached on a fielding error with one out and Steven Thibault walked to put two on. Ted Shaw then hit a hard one-hopper to second that was fielded cleanly but then things went quickly awry for the Black and Gold.

Senior Cole Fabio (Mahwah, N.J.) flipped the ball to freshman Jimmy Titus (Stafford, Conn.) at second for what appeared to be the second out but Titus's throw to first went wild and out of play. It was ruled, however, that Titus didn't have his foot on the bag at second base, allowing the runner to be safe. In addition, because the ball went out of play, that same runner was awarded home.

Bryant quickly responded, getting both runs back in the bottom of the seventh. Freshman Chris Wright (Cumberland, R.I.) led off the inning by lifting a high fly ball down the right field line that stayed fair for a solo home run. It was Wright's fourth home run of the year.

Panno restarted the inning with a one-out walk and freshman James Ciliento (Mahwah, N.J.) followed with a single off the leg of SHU starter Brent Teller. A ground ball to third put runners on second and third with two outs and Fabio's ground ball to third was bobbled, allowing a run to score and make it 3-2. Bryant then nearly tied the game but sophomore Nick Angelini's (Bedford, N.H.) hard liner to left hung up for the final out.

Junior James Karinchak (Walden, N.Y.) was dominant for the Bulldogs, striking out 10 over 6 1/3 innings. He allowed two runs (one earned) on four hits and walked three. It was the fourth time this season Karinchak has struck out 10+ batters in the game and gave the righty 272 in his outstanding career, just one shy of the all-time program record. He struck out two in the first, two in the third and the side in the fourth after the DeFilippo home run. Sophomore Nathan Wrighter (Windsor, N.Y.) pitched the final 2 2/3 for the Bulldogs.  

Teller was just as good for the Pioneers, surrendering two runs (one earned) on just four hits over seven innings. He walked one, struck out three and threw 104 pitches. Jackson Aldam pitched a perfect eighth before giving way to Sundahl in the ninth.