Grand Prairie, Texas - The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team rallied for a pair of runs in the 10th inning to earn a 3-2 victory over Colorado Mesa and stay in the Winner's Bracket at the NCAA Division II Championship. Juan Adorno and Anthony Maisano - both of whom entered as late-game replacements - drove in the deciding runs in the top of the 10th as STAC improves to 43-15, with CMU dropping to the Loser's Bracket at 49-11. The victory was the second straight in extra innings for the Sparkill contingent.
St. Thomas Aquinas will now play Thursday in Tournament Game 11 at 4:00 pm, facing the winner of Wednesday's Game 9 between Lindenwood and Cal San Diego. Whichever team STAC plays will have one loss and be facing elimination. Colorado Mesa will face Delta State in an elimination game on Wednesday night.
Two more teams will be sent home before the Spartans play on Thursday, assuring that they will be at least one of the final four teams remaining. If STAC wins Thursday, they will advance to the National Championship Final.
Each team threatened but failed to score in the first three innings as STAC's Chris Cepeda dueled with Colorado Mesa's J.R. McDermott. STAC's best opportunity was in the 2nd as the Spartans put runners at first and third with one down, but McDermott escaped the jam.
Colorado Mesa had its best chance in the home 3rd, loading the bases with a single, a hit batter, and an error, with nobody out. Cepeda induced JJ Carr to pop out for the first out, then, with Kyle Serrano at bat, left fielder Mark Shkrelja made what proved to be a game-changing play without touching the ball.
Serrano's foul ball was playable, but Shkrelja opted to let it drop to prevent the sacrifice fly. One pitch later, Serrano grounded to second where Nick Lucchese applied the tag and threw to first to complete the double play.
CMU again loaded the bases with one out in the 5th thanks to a throwing error after a diving stop by Anthony Shkrelja, and finally posted the first run on Carr's single to left. Cepeda escaped further damage, however, giving his team a chance to tie the score in the visiting 7th.
Greg Dawber led off with a single and, with one out, stole second on Joey Pena's swinging strike three. From there, Coach Scott Muscat elected to insert Anthony Maisano as a pinch runner, which paid dividends when Nick Lucchese singled to center, tying the score at 1-1 and bringing McDermott's night to an end. Jake Mielok proceeded to load the bases but retired the Spartans without yielding the go-ahead run.
More anxious moments ensued in the bottom of the frame when the Mavericks put two on with two out, as Cepeda gave way to Chris Pennell, who recorded the final out and ensured that neither starter would receive a decision despite their heroic efforts.
STAC stranded a pair of runners in the 9th and Pennell retired all seven batters he faced to send the game to extra innings. Gio Dingcong led off the 10th with a single and was erased on a fielder's choice by Mike Morgan for the second out of the inning. A passed ball on catcher Kyle Serrano and an errant throw trying to get Morgan at second advanced the lead run to third.
Adorno, who entered the game in the 8th inning, made his first at bat of the Championships a memorable one, flaring a go-ahead double into right-center and advancing to third on an error, giving STAC a 2-1 lead. Maisano, who also entered late, came through with an RBI single to plate what proved to be a crucial insurance run.
George Navadel came on in the 10th to seal the deal despite Kevan Elcock's RBI single, earning his ninth save of the season and making a winner of Pennell, who improved to 3-2 on the season. Dingcong had three hits and Cris Ruiz worked out three walks to aid the STAC offense, while Tyler Day was tagged with the loss for the Mavericks.
Provided by the St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Information Department.