MANSFIELD, Conn. -- New England Pitcher-of-the-Year Jeremiah Bayer (Greenfield, Mass.) retired New England Player-of-the-Year Shawn Gilblair (Windham, Conn.) on an infield popup with two outs and the bases loaded in the top of the ninth inning that preserved third-seeded Trinity College's 5-4 victory over top-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University and gave the Bantams their second straight regional championship at the 2009 NCAA Division III New England Regional Tournament Sunday at the Eastern Baseball Stadium.
No. 5 nationally-ranked Trinity (33-5) opens defense of last
year's national championship Friday afternoon against Mid-Atlantic
Regional Tournament champion Kean University at Fox Cities Stadium
in Grand Chute, WI. No. 3 nationally-ranked Eastern
Connecticut (39-8), which had a streak of 15 straight wins in
the New England tournament snapped in a first-round loss, had won
titles in the four previous New England tournaments in which it had
competed (2002-04, 2007).
The Bantams avoided a one-game winner-take-all showdown scheduled for Sunday evening by erasing early 2-0 and 3-2 deficits to post its fourth tournament victory without a loss in the eight-team, double-elimination tournament. En route to the finals, Trinity edged sixth-seeded Westfield State College, 6-4, Wednesday, second-seeded University of Southern Maine, 6-0, and fourth-seeded WPI, 14-0, both games Friday.
The Bantams scored twice in the third Sunday to take the lead for good, 4-3, and added an insurance run in the fifth. Making only his third relief appearance of the season, Bayer (12-0) gave up a solo home run to Melvin Castillo (Danbury, Conn.) with one out in the eighth and wriggled out of a monumental ninth-inning jam on the way to tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.
Trinity scored all of its runs in the game with two outs and Eastern scored three of its four runs on solo home runs.
The Warriors, which staged a three-run ninth-inning rally Saturday afternoon against WPI to post its fourth straight tournament win, loaded the bases in the ninth on a bloop opposite-field single to right by pinch hitter Andrew Dewing (Swampscott, Mass.), a swinging bunt by leadoff batter John Parke (Middlefield, Conn.) that Bayer fumbled, and a walk on a 3-2 pitch to Travis Bass (West Hartford, Conn.). With the go-ahead run in scoring position, the right-handed Bayer induced a weak popup to short on the first pitch to lefty-swinging Gilblair that ensured the Bantams' third New England championship in five years.
Trinity becomes the third different team to capture at least two straight New England titles in the 19-year history of the championship, following Southern Maine in 1991-92 and 2000-01 and Eastern between 2002 and 2004.
Bass and Gilblair launched solo home runs in the first inning off Trinity starter James Ramsey (Belmont, Mass.) to give starting righty Will Musson (Wethersfield, Conn.) a quick 2-0 cushion, but the Bantams answered immediately in the bottom of the inning on a two-out, two-run single by James Wood (Windham, N.H.). After the Warriors took their second lead on two hits and in infield throwing error in the top of the third, Trinity went ahead for good, 4-3, in the bottom of the inning on two-out, RBI singles by Ryan Piacentini (Portland, Maine) and Kevin Mortimer (Spencer, Mass.). Piacentini's sacrifice fly in the fifth gave Bayer a a two-run cushion before smashed a solo home run in the eighth to make it a one-run game. With his 39th career home run - 14th of the season - Castillo broke the 31-year-old record set by Don Fusari between 1975 and 1978.
After being upset by Babson in the opener, Eastern had scrapped back with elimination wins over Suffolk Thursday, Southern Maine Friday and Husson and WPI Saturday, but needed to sweep Trinity Sunday to qualify for its 13th NCAA national tournament since 1982.
One of his team's five all-tournament picks, Bayer was 2-0 in two tournament appearances. He won Trinity's second tournament game with his third complete-game shutout of the season against heavy-hitting Southern Maine in his first tourney appearance. Against Eastern, he struck out seven over final 4 1/3 innings, allowing three hits and one walk. He entered the week as the national leader in ERA.
Bayer was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Piacentini, Wood, Sean Killeen (Greenfield, Mass.) , and Kent Graham (Longmeadow, Mass.). A second baseman, Piacentini was 5-for-11 in the tournament with four runs scored and four RBI. He also reached safely five additional times with four walks and a hit-by-pitch, and handled 19 defensive chances without an error; the team's rightfielder, Wood was 8-for-16 with five runs scored and seven RBI. He hit his team's only tournament home run - a three-run game-tying fourth-inning blast in the opening win over Westfield; a catcher, Killeen was 6-for-15 with four runs scored and three RBI; and Graham, the Bantams' first baseman, was 5-for-16 with four runs scored and four RBI.
Giblair, Parke, and Robert Perry represented Eastern on the all-tournament team. Giblair was named at utility, Parke at second base, and Perry as an outfielder. Rounding out the 11-player all-tournament team (selected regardless of position), were shortstop Paul Galligan (Weymouth, Mass.) and right-handed pitcher Conor Fahey (Cumberland, R.I.) of WPI and DH Ethan Guerette (Wales, Maine).