Owls edge Wheaton 7-6 on Vita's walk-off single
KEENE, N.H. 4/29/12 – A accidental change in uniform turned out to be a good omen for the Keene State College baseball team on Sunday.
After dropping a doubleheader to Southern Maine and falling out of first place in the Little East standings on Saturday, the Keene State College baseball team needed to change things up for Sunday's key regional game against Wheaton College.
The Owls never expected that a change in uniforms would help turn the tide. Sitting at the senior awards brunch Sunday morning, KSC baseball Coach Ken Howe got a text message telling him that the team's home uniforms hadn't been washed. "When I got back to the office I sent out a text to tell the guys that we're wearing our away black uniforms today," he said. "It turned out to give us a little luck."
The Owls bounced back from yesterday's disappointing double-dip against USM with an exhilarating and much-need 7-6 non-conference victory over Wheaton College at Owl Athletic Complex. Sophomore Nick Vita (Spofford, N.H.) did the honors, driving in the winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning with a bases-loaded single up the middle.
"With one out I'm basically trying to get the ball into the outfield. I wasn't really nervous," said Vita. "I'm pretty relaxed in that situation and it really paid off."
Not only did the win take the sting out of Saturday's losses, but should give the Owls a tremendous boost in the regional rankings. Wheaton (32-7) not only came into the game ranked second in the latest American Baseball Coaches poll, but more importantly on top of the recently-released NCAA regional rankings. Keene State (27-11) came into the day right behind the Lyons, ranked second in New England and 25th in the ABCA poll.
The Owls knew the significance of the win. "This was huge. Yesterday was a pretty rough day and coming back and beating Wheaton, one of the best teams we'll face all season, really means a lot to the team," said Vita.
"We just knew it was another big game," said senior Larry Longo (Londonderry, N.H.). "We we're down on ourselves a little bit and we just decided to stick together as a team and try to scrap this one out and get a W."
The game didn't get off to a good start for the Owls, who found themselves down 4-0 going into the bottom of the first inning. Keene State got two runs back in the bottom of the frame when senior Kyle Morrill (Auburn, N.H.), who had singled, scored on an infield error. A sacrifice fly by Vita brought in the Owls' second run.
After Wheaton added a run in the third inning, KSC scored in the bottom of the fifth to make it a 5-3 game with senior Erik Bergstrom (Enfield, Conn.) coming through with a clutch two-out RBI single to left field.
A three-run seventh inning gave Keene State a 6-5 lead. Bergstrom knocked in the first run with a RBI double down the left field line. Senior Peter Burgio (Bolton, Conn.) followed with an infield single to bring in another run and Longo put the Owls' on top when he beat out an infield single to shortstop. "I was in a pretty good battle with their pitcher. He was throwing me all sorts of junk and I was just trying to slap it, stay short and put the ball in play," said Longo.
Wheaton tied the game in the eighth inning. Freshman Tyler Contillo (Montville, Conn.) walked. He was sacrificed to second, went to third on an error and scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Justin Connor (Arlington, Mass.).
Morrill began the Owls' ninth inning rally by beating out an infield grounder to short. With one out, Morrill advanced to second on Burgio's single to left. Longo followed with a walk, setting the stage for Vita's heroics.
Morrill, Bergstrom, and Burgio, the Owls' 2-3-4 batters in the line-up each had three hits.
Senior Hal Landers (Salem, N.H.), freshman Kevin Foley (Southbury, Conn.), and Contillo each had two hits for the Lyons.
After KSC starter Chris Crutcher (Londonderry, N.H.) couldn't get out of the first inning, senior Nick Winn (West Hartford, Conn.), sophomore infielder–turned pitcher Vinnie Mangiagli (East Hartford, Conn.), and junior John Coughlin (Litchfield, N.H.) gave the Owls outstanding relief work. "Winny" came in and just shut the door and gave us an opportunity to come back," said Howe. "You can't say enough about his performance."
Coughlin picked-up the win (3-2) for KSC. He tossed one-hit ball over the final 1.2 innings with two strikeouts. He got out of jam in the eighth, striking out Foley with two outs and a runner at second. "After throwing him a fastball outside off the plate, I came back with a slider and it worked," said Coughlin.
Freshman Brian Mylette (Dorchester, Mass.), the fifth pitcher used by Wheaton took the loss.
The Owls will now take a break for finals before hosting UMass-Dartmouth in a Little East doubleheader on Friday. "I'm going to hit the books and try to do well on grades and just practice, hit the weight room and keep our usual routine," said Vita.
"We got a big week of practice. We're going to get the guys all together and make sure we keep focused and get ready for Friday," added Longo.