STONY BROOK, N.Y. – UMass Lowell earned the number four seed in the America East Baseball Tournament with a lethal mixture of timely hitting and shutdown pitching as the River Hawks defeated first-place Stony Brook 8-1, Saturday afternoon, at Joe Nathan Field.
UMass Lowell, winners of seven of their last eight, finish the regular season with a 19-34 record but more significantly at 12-12 record in conference play. They started the day in a fifth-place tie but jumped into fourth place with the win coupled with losses by both Maine and Hartford. Stony Brook closes out the regular season with a 28-21 record overall and 15-9 in conference play. The Seawolves are the top seed but dropped two out of three to UMass Lowell in the season-ending series.
“We’re playing our best baseball right now,” according to UMass Lowell Baseball Head Coach Ken Harring. “And it’s the most important time of the year.”
Senior Michael Young (Chester, N.J.) and junior Ciaran Devenney (Manalapan, N.J.) were the offensive stars while right-handers sophomore Henry Funaro (Lowell, Mass.) and graduate student Sean O’Neill (Reading, Mass.) combined, allowing just two hits, combined to silence Stony Brook bats.
The River Hawks jumped on top with two outs in the second inning. Senior Steve Passatempo (Medford, Mass.) opened the inning ringing double off the center field wall. It was his ninth of the year. Passatempo came around to score, with a head-first slide, two outs later when Young lined a single to center field.
“Michael got us going with a two-out knock,” said Harring. “It was a good piece of hitting in a clutch situation.”
Stony Brook lefty Jared Milch got himself in a bit of trouble in the fourth inning. It was of his own making and the River Hawks took full advantage. The Seawolves starter hit Passatempo and walked Devenney with one out. One out later Young produced his second clutch hit of the ball game. He ripped a double into the right-field corner scoring Passatempo.
“This is (Young’s) final season and he’s been a big contributor,” said Harring. “It’s awesome watching him battle and produce.”
Moments later junior Cam Climo (Billerica, Mass.), who’d reached base on a fielder’s choice, scored when Milch was called for a balk pushing the River Hawk lead to 3-0.
The River Hawks blew the game wide open in the seventh inning. Three walks and a wild pitch upped the UMass Lowell lead to 4-1 and after another walk, Devenney put an exclamation point on the inning with a towering blast to left center field. The grand slam was his team-leading sixth home run of the season.
“He’s playing incredible,” according to the coach. “His confidence is growing and he’s putting real good swings on the ball. He demolished that pitch.”
While UMass Lowell hitters battered Stony Brook pitchers, the River Hawk arms did their job in dominating fashion.
UMass Lowell starter Henry Funaro went a strong five innings allowing just one-run on one-hit. Funaro, who has struggled with his command at times during the season, did walk six while striking out four. He worked out of a couple of anxious moments.
“He was just grinding away,” said Harring. “He gave us an opportunity to win. He showed his mental toughness and that was good for the team.”
Funaro picked up his first win of the season.
Sean O’Neill followed Funaro to the mound. Harring hoped O’Neill could give the ball club two solid innings. The coach got much more than he hoped for. O’Neill earned a save with four innings of one-hit baseball.
“He was incredible,” stated Harring. “He was efficient; his two-seam fastball was moving eight-inches. That pitch runs and sinks. And he had command.”
The America East Baseball Championship Tournament, a double elimination affair, starts on Wednesday, May 22 on the campus of Binghamton University in Vestal, N.Y. The River Hawks will open the tournament with an 11:00 am game against Maine. The Championship Game is scheduled for Saturday.
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