Cary, N.C. - The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team jumped ahead early, then rallied to tie before falling, 5-4, vs Colorado Mesa University at the NCAA Division II Baseball Finals in Cary, North Carolina. The loss put the Spartans one game from elimination, dropping their record to 38-17, with CMU improving to 45-11. STAC will now play an elimination game on Tuesday against Minnesota-Mankato, which suffered a 4-2 loss to Seton Hill earlier today.
St. Thomas Aquinas entered the tournament having not swung aluminum bats this year and facing Colorado Mesa ace Matt DeLay, who entered the game with a perfect 9-0 record. If the Spartans were intimidated, they certainly didn't show it, jumping on DeLay to grab an early lead.
Rich Baerga and Kenny Kirshner got the ball rolling with back-to-back singles, and quickly proceded to double-steal into scoring position. Derek Hirsch drove in the first run with a ground out, and Stephen Sunday's infield hit put the East Region champs in an early 2-0 lead.
Rob Frank, STAC's all-time record holder in both wins and strikeouts, got the ball and held the hard-hitting off the Mavericks until the bottom of the 3rd, when it was his own glove that put him in jeopardy.
Garrett Woodward led off with an infield hit and Austin Wallingford attempted to sacrifice him over, but Frank's fielding error opened the door, putting two on with none out. Kevan Elcock struck out and Sergio Valenzuela bunted the runners into scoring position before Garrett Carpenter came up with a big two-run single, bringing home a pair of unearned markers to tie the score.
After struggling early, DeLay gained momentum against the STAC offense while the Mustangs put runners in scoring position but were held in check by Frank as the game remained tied until the bottom of the 6th when the middle of the CMU lineup resorted to small ball.
National Player of the Year Austin Kaiser led off with a perfect bunt single and Nate Robertson followed with a carbon copy dropped down the third base line to put two on with nobody out. The Mustangs took to the run, executing a double-steal with catcher Stephen Sunday's throw went into right field, scoring Kaiser to give CMU its first lead of the game. Frank rebounded in commanding fashion, striking out the next three batters to make the run unearned, the Spartans third of the game.
As they have done throughout the season, the Spartans clawed their way back in the late innings. Hirsch started the ball rolling in the visitors 8th with a double into the left field corner and moved to third on Stanley Susana's single. Tyler Ehlers came on in relief of DeLay but his starter was put in the "no decision" column when Nick D'Angelo tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
Colorado Mesa regained the lead in the bottom half when, wtih two out and nobody on, Robertson doubled deep to left. That ended Frank's day and brought on closer CJ Ferriggi, who was greeted rudely as Jordan Liester lined a single to left to put his team back on top at 4-3.
There was still plenty of drama in store, however, as Mustangs closer Carpenter came in from left field in an attempt to finish the game. He looked to be in control with two out and nobody on when the spirited Spartans staged yet another comeback. Rich Baerga walked and Kenny Kirshner singled, moving the tying run to third. Hirsh followed by dropping a single into right-center, tying the score.
Ferriggi was far from out of the woods in the bottom of the 9th, as another infield error helped CMU load the bases with nobody out and the heart of the order coming up. The bearded wonder was tough as always, inducing a foul out, a grounder to first for a force at the plate, and a fly out to escape damage and send the game to extra innings.
In the 10th it was the Spartans turn to threaten, with Nick D'Angelo leading off with a double. After a Sunday strikeout, D'Angelo attempted to cross to third on Ferriggi's grounder to short, but the throw was dropped by third baseman Valenzuela, putting runners at the corners with one down. This time it was Carpenter who worked out of danger, inducing Mike Apreda into an inning-ending double-play grounder to second.
Finally it was Mesa breaking through in the bottom half, aided yet again by a fielding miscue. Trevor Elcock, inserted into the game late, led off with a booming double to left center. Attempting to sacrifice, Derrick Garcia's perfect bunt was going to lead to a single, but third baseman Greg Dawber's desperate throw was offline, caroming into short right field and allowing Elcock to dash home with the winning run.
Ferriggi took the loss to drop to 2-2 overall, though the STAC defense was the main culprit, facilitating four unearned runs to a Mustang team that entered the game with a .361 team batting average. In fact, St. Thomas Aquinas outhit their foes by a 13-11 margin, with Susana picking up three hits and Hirsh, Kirshner and Ferriggi adding two each.
Carpenter took the win in relief to improve to 2-1 on the season, with Robertson and Liester posting two hits apiece for CMU.
Provided by the St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Information Department.