A terrific three-game series concluded on Sunday afternoon at Lelacheur Park. River Hawks head coach Ken Harring called them “six wars” and even though the Maine Black Bears (24-16, 19-5 in AE) won four of the six. They left Lowell knowing that the River Hawks (21-25, 11-13 in AE) are a team that will need to be reckoned with once the America East baseball tournament gets underway. On Sunday, another back and forth game between these two was decided by a walk-off single in the tenth by River Hawks CR Gerry Siracusa. UMass Lowell becomes the first team to win a series from Maine in conference play, taking Sunday’s game 5-4 in ten innings.
This game had everything you would want in a college baseball game. It had drama, great defensive plays, good pitching, and clutch at-bats. In the end, Lowell was on the right side of things in part because this team was not willing to let this game get away from them. To their credit, Maine put up quite a fight themselves tying the game in the top of the ninth to force extra innings. Both teams know they will see each other again in a couple of weeks. When that happens the stakes will be much higher. For now, the River Hawks can lay claim to doing something that no one else in the league can say. They took a series from the best team in the league.
After collecting his first save of the season a day earlier, Ryan Towle got the start for Lowell on Sunday. He had to work for everything he got. The Black Bears hitters were patient at the plate as long at-bats were the theme of their approach. Towle did strike out the side in the first, but a leadoff walk to Jordan Schulefaud, who stole second base, and then scored two outs later on a base hit to left by first baseman Joe Bramanti (2-4, 1 RBI, 1 RS) gave Maine a 1-0 lead. Brett Erwin was Maine’s Sunday starter and he suffered the same fate as Towle. Long at-bats by Lowell hitters drove his pitch count up very quickly. The River Hawks tied the game in the bottom of the first. A one-out walk to DH Robert Gallagher, who then stole second base (37th steal of the season), scored two batters later on a single to center by Brandon Fish (3-5, 2 RBI) to make it 1-1 after one frame.
Lowell added single runs in both the second and third innings to take a 3-1 lead. In the fourth, Maine tied the game at 3-3. Bramanti started it with a lead-off walk and then LF Scout Knotts pushed a bunt between the pitcher’s mound and third base for a hit. DH Jeremiah Jenkins drove home Bramanti with a double down the line in right. Knotts moved to third and did not stay there long. Black Bears catcher Colby Emmertz grounded out to second to bring home Knotts and tied the game. After the game, Harring said “Towle’s ability to limit the damage in that inning was key. ” Lowell once again answered with a run in the bottom of the fourth to retake the lead. LF Alex Luccini singled on a line to left. Jacob Humphrey did the same to right with Luccini going to third. Humphrey then stole his 40th base of the season. Gallagher got hit by a pitch to load the bases. Siracusa ended Erwin’s day (3.2 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 2 BB, 4 SO, 4 HBP) with an RBI groundout to second base scoring Luccini and giving Lowell the lead back at 4-3.
Towle pitched into the sixth before leaving with runners on first and second on back-to-back walks. Towle’s line was 5.2 IP, 3 H, 3 ER, 6 BB, 6 SO threw 109 pitches, 69 for strikes. Brendan Williams came on to end the inning by getting Jake Marquez to fly out. Williams would do his job and the same can be said of the Maine bullpen. Tyler Nielsen, Colton Carson, Leif Biglow, and Matthew Pushard all did their jobs. Lowell took a 4-3 lead to the ninth. In the top of the inning, Schulefand was up against Matt Draper and hit a rocket to Fish at third. The ball deflected off him and rolled to the stands for a double. The next hitter, Jeff Mejia, was asked to bunt. However, his attempt was popped up and River Hawks first baseman Cedric Rose raced in and caught the pop up then fired a strike to second base to catch Schulefand off the bag for a double play. One of two great defensive plays by Rose. The other came an inning before when he drove to the line to smother a ground ball off the bat of Marquez and from his knees threw him out. Seconds after the double play was made, Draper then faced Quinn McDaniel who drove a high fly ball through the wind and off the scoreboard in left for a HR that tied the game at 4-4. A crushing moment for Draper and a thrilling one for McDaniel and his team.
In extras, Draper came back and kept Maine off the scoreboard in the ninth. Maine’s head coach Nick Derba called on Schulefand to do the same. In the bottom of the ninth, he did keep Lowell off the board by striking out Roddy Hernandez with two men on. In the tenth, Luccini (2-4, 2RS) doubled off the base of the wall in right. Humphrey then popped a sac bunt up in foul ground that catcher Ryan Turenne, who came into the game as a defensive replacement in the tenth, caught for the first out. Maine then decided to intentionally walk Gallagher to set up a force at any base. Siracusa, with runners at first and second, drilled a 2-0 fastball off of Schulefand into left field for a base hit that scored Luccini from second and set off a wild celebration in the infield around Siracusa. The River Hawks walked off with a 5-4 win.
After the game, Harring talked about the job that Draper (2-4) did in relief (2.2 IP,4 H, 1 ER, 1 HR) by saying “he showed his true colors.” He liked that his offense was able to tack on runs in the early going of the game. It would prove to be huge in the end. Draper gets the win, and Schulefand takes the loss (5-2). UMass Lowell has no mid-week games this week SO they can rest and get ready for a trip to Hartford on Friday.
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