NEW LONDON, Conn. – Top-seeded Mitchell College scored two runs in the eighth inning to take a 3-2 lead and held on to defeat fourth-seeded Southern Vermont College by the same margin in the title game of the 2011 New England Collegiate Conference Baseball Championship on Wednesday afternoon.
Mitchell (23-9-1 overall) receives the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Regional Championship. The NCAA berth is the first for the baseball program, which is led by first-year head coach Scott Kingston. The Mariners will be one of eight teams competing at the regional tournament on May 18-22 in Harwich, Mass.
In a season where offense fueled the majority of Mitchell's wins, it was pitching and timely hitting that carried the day for the Mariners. Three pitchers combined to scatter seven hits over the nine-inning affair, with John Apostolo earning the win in a 4.0 inning relief stint. Drew Rossi closed out the game to earn his fourth save of the season.
Southern Vermont (18-22 overall) had chances to take an early lead but squandered bases-loaded opportunities in each of the first three innings. Mitchell starter Paul Martinez wiggled out of trouble in each frame to escape damage. The Mountaineers had the sacks packed with only one out in both the first and third innings but came away empty.
Mitchell also had a hard time capitalizing early off SVC starter Connor Murray. The Mariners were caught stealing on a missed hit-and-run play in the third, and a base-running snafu in the fourth cost them a potential run. Apostolo lined out to left and the Mitchell runner on second was doubled up while getting back to the bag. Felix Colarte then delivered a single that would have plated the runner, but it instead went for naught.
The Mariners finally broke through in the sixth inning for the game's first run. Perillo got on base with a one-out single and moved into scoring position when Murray was called for a balk. Mitchell took advantage of the miscue as Apostolo singled to center to drive in Perillo from second base.
The Mountaineers, batting as the home team, answered right back in the bottom of the sixth. Keith Diotte led off with a single and moved into scoring position on a sacrifice by Dave Northup. After Dave Gage reached base by getting hit by a pitch, Southern Vermont plated a pair of runs on back-to-back singles by Pat Warringto and Corey Armstrong to take the lead.
Mitchell trailed 2-1 heading into the eighth when SVC made a pitching change and handed the ball to Tim Johnson. The Mariners wasted little time getting to the new pitcher, as Perillo led off with a double and moved up a base when the relay from the outfield was overthrown. Anthony Santiago then followed with a single to left to tie the game.
Johnson walked the next batter and was replaced by Joel DeFedele. A wild pitch moved Santiago to third, and he later scored with the go-ahead run on a ground out by Colarte.
The Mariners called upon Rossi to get the final six outs. Southern Vermont had the tying run only 90 feet away in each of the final two innings, but Rossi clamped down both times to record outs. He got the game's final batter to strike out looking to seal the win for the Mariners.
The win cemented a storybook comeback for Mitchell, which faced an uphill battle after losing the opening game of the double-elimination tournament. However, the Mariners responded with four straight victories to claim their second conference crown in as many seasons.
The Mountaineers wasted a solid performance from Murray, who didn't factor in the decision. He threw 7.0 innings and allowed one run on five hits while striking out four and walking three. Johnson, who faced only three batters, took the loss.
Apostolo was named the tournament's most valuable player. He batted .286 with three home runs and a double and drove in a tournament-high seven runs. He also pitched in four of Mitchell's five games and allowed six runs on 10 hits in 15.0 innings while striking out 18.
Apostolo was joined on the All-Tournament Team by Perillo and Colarte while Southern Vermont was represented by Murray, Dave Northup and Adam Northup. Rounding out the team were Cody Ewest, Tom Natoli, Korey LeLievre and Kory Kiro.