WASHINGTON – A day removed from one of the more jubilant days in recent SUNYIT baseball history, the Wildcats suffered a pair of heart-wrenching losses, as the Nittany Lions of Penn State Berks took home the 2014 NEAC Championship.
SUNYIT dropped a 12-inning marathon in the first game 8-5, then watched a 6-1 lead evaporate in the 6th and 7th innings of the nightcap, as the Lions dropped back-to-back innings of 6 runs to take a 13-6 lead and holding SUNYIT the rest of the way.
After giving up a run in the top of the 1st inning, the Wildcats responded with three in the bottom of the 2nd to take a 3-1 lead. Jim Sass (Kingston, N.Y. / Kingston) singled home a run in the inning, and Connor Passalacqua (Whitestown, N.Y. / Whitesboro), Gerald Milanes (Brooklyn, N.Y. /Santa Rosa de Lima), and Dylan Gorski (Deerfield, N.Y. / Whitesboro) got things rolling with three straight singles to start the inning.
Ryan Dungey (Vernon, N.Y. / VVS) was the starting pitcher for the Wildcats. He ended up going 6 and 1/3 innings, giving up 4 earned runs on 4 hits and 5 strikeouts.
In the 7th inning, Joe Redmond (Stone Ridge, N.Y. / Rondout Valley) came in for Dungey with one out and runners on second and third. He got ahead of Keeanu Erb 0-2, then missed on a close one for ball one. The SUNYIT bench wanted a called third strike on the plate but didn't get it, and Erb got just enough of the 1-2 pitch to fist a high fastball to left-center, scoring both runners and putting the Nittany Lions ahead 4-3.
Redmond settled down, however, and got the dangerous cleanup hitter Kyle Hartman to ground into an inning-ending 4-6-3 double play, keeping the Wildcats within striking distance.
In the bottom of the 8th the Wildcats put runners on with two outs. Dungey then came up with runners on 1st and 2nd and ripped a line drive single to right field. Both runners moved up, loading the bases for Joseph O'Rourke (Camden, N.Y. / Camden). The left-fielder grounded a swinging bunt down the first base line. It appeared to be going foul, but Hartman came off the mound for the Nittany Lions to field the ball before it crossed the line. When he spun around, however, he was too late to make a play at any base, allowing Ryan Wegner (Rochester, N.Y. / Brockport) to score from third for the tying run.
The game would go to extra innings, remaining tied 4-4 until three-straight two-out singles by the Nittany Lions put the visitors ahead 5-4. Jeff Albright (New Hartford, N.Y. / New Hartford) then entered the game for Redmond, and the lefty would get the last out to send it to the bottom of the 11th.
In the 11th, Kevin Rowlands (New York Mills, N.Y. / Notre Dame) led off the inning with a single, and Passalacqua got on as well to give SUNYIT runners on first and second with no outs. The Wildcats were unable to get the sac-bunt down after that, resulting in an out and bringing Gorski to the plate. The catcher grounded into what looked like a sure 4-6-3 double-play, but the Nittany Lion shortstop threw the ball away trying to complete the turn, allowing Rowlands to score all the way from second and giving the "Cardiac 'Cats" new life with the game once again tied, 5-5.
In the top of the 12th, however, the Nittany Lions struck again. The Nittany Lions took advantage of a pair of SUNYIT errors in the inning, hanging 3 on the board for an 8-5 lead. Kyle Hartman then retired the Wildcats in the bottom of the inning to give the Nittany Lions a miraculous 8-5 lead in 12 innings.
The second game on Sunday was – there is no better or easier way to say this – a bad dream for the Wildcats.
Things began well enough, as freshman starting pitcher Sawyer Haney (Cooperstown, N.Y. / Cooperstown) survived a run in the first inning to string together what was shaping up to be a solid start. Haney held the Nittany Lions scoreless through the next four innings, allowing the Wildcats to build a 6-1 lead, as SUNYIT scored two each in the 3rd, 5th, and 6th innings.
O'Rourke continued to hit the ball well out of the 3-spot for the Wildcats, knocking in a run in the 3rd on a sacrifice fly, then adding an RBI single in the 6th. He would finish the game 3-for-4 with 2 RBI's and a run scored.
Haney, who had been excellent to that point, ran into trouble in the bottom of the 6th. After loading the bases with nobody out, he threw a great pitch to strike out dangerous Berks hitter Ryan Tantala. But all of a sudden things went bad in a hurry, as Haney improbably hit the next three batters to force in three runs for the Nittany Lions. Lyle Beane (New Hartford, N.Y. / New Hartford) then entered the game, but was unable to stop the bleeding.
When the dust had settled, Penn St.-Berks had thrown up 6 runs to take a 7-6 lead.
It would get no better the next inning, as a flurry of walks from the SUNYIT pitching staff led to another 6-run inning for the Nittany Lions, who now held a commanding 13-6 lead. It would be more than enough as the Wildcats were unable to make another run, falling by the same score.
With the loss the Wildcats settle for runner-up after their improbable run to the championship. They finish the season with a record of 18-19 overall, and 10-8 in conference.