A terrific week of baseball ended on Sunday with a nail-biter of a final. UMBC won their first ever America East crown and makes an NCAA regional for the very first time by beating a game Maine squad 2-1 in ten innings at LeLacheur Park.
The Black Bears came into the final on a bit of a roll having already knocked out four teams on their way to Sunday’s finale. For the Retrievers, the road to championship Sunday was easier as they only needed to win twice to get here.
Under threatening skies that at times looked like they were going to open up, the two teams were ready for what could have been a long day of baseball.
Maryland-Baltimore County started freshman Mitchell Wilson, who ran into trouble in the very first inning. Back to back singles from the top of the Black Bears order, Jeremy Pena and Lou Della Fera gave them a first and third with no outs. Number three hitter, Christopher Bec, brought home one run with a sac fly to center field to drive in RBI 26 on the year, 1-0 Maine.
Black Bears head coach Nick Derba went back to his Wednesday night starter Justin Courtney who against Hartford threw 136 pitches in an eight-inning no decision vs the Hawks. Coming back on three days rest the hope was he could get his team to the middle frames while still being in the game.
He would do just that but did give up the tying run in the fourth. Retrievers first baseman Jamie Switalski started the rally with a base hit to center field and after being sacrificed to second, he reached third on a single to left field by Zack Bright. UMBC would then tied the game at 1-1 on a sacrifice fly by third baseman Christian Torres, the run batted in was his 27th on the season.
The key moment of the game and season for Maine came in the seventh as Pena led it off with a double off the wall in left. The hit was part of a four-hit game for him. Della Fera, in trying to sacrifice him to third, got the bonus when his bunt was beaten out for a hit. Maine was in business with runners at the corners and no outs.
Next man up was Bec who’s job was to bring the go-ahead run home any way he could. He laid down a safety squeeze in front of the plate. Pena running on the play got caught in a rundown between third and home and he would be tagged out. The bad base running would continue when Della Fera stopped running between second and third and was also tagged out. Instead of runners on second and third with only one out, Maine had a runner at second with two out. What might have been, became a missed opportunity when Tyler Schwanz grounded out to end the chance.
The game was now in the hands of the bullpens and the question was which one would blink first. Retrievers relief pitchers Connor Staskey and Jacob Christian would combine to go 5.1 innings giving up five hits, one walk, and two strikeouts. There only scary moment came in the top of the tenth when Schwanz whacked a Christian pitch off the wall in LF to begin the frame. With three chances to score the go-ahead run, all the Black Bears could muster was two groundouts and an infield pop out to third.
Meanwhile, Maine relief pitcher Jeff Gelinas was very good, going 4.2 of two-hit ball, but in the tenth, he lost command of the strike zone and would pay for it.
Mitchell Carroll led off with a walk for Maryland-Baltimore County. He was bunted over to second base. After a ground out to third by second baseman A.J. Wright that did not advance the runner, it looked like the threat would be wasted. But Gelinas could not find the strike zone as he walked Switalski then gave a free pass to Hunter Dolshun. It brought up Bright with the bases loaded. The bat never left his shoulders as he was walked to force in the game-winning run. The RBI was his 18th of the campaign and sent UMBC to their first ever NCAA regional in school history.
Christian picked up the win, Gelinas took the tough-luck loss. Maryland-Baltimore County finished at 23-23 and will find out at noon on Memorial Day Monday where they are headed probably as a four seed.
Maine, who went 4-2 on their way to the championship, finished their season at 25-29. The Most Valuable player in the tourney was Retrievers Catcher Hunter Dolshun.
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