HARWICH, MA- The third-seeded Wheaton College baseball team's quest to return to a regional final for the first time since 2006 fell short against eighth seed Bridgewater State University, dropping a 6-3 decision to the Bears in the NCAA England Regional Tournament semifinal on Saturday at Whitehouse Field.
Recording their seventh straight 30-win season, the Lyons, who entered the game ranked 19th nationally by D3baseball.com and first in the region according to the New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA), finish the year at 32-12. Advancing to the championship round for the first time since 2004, 26-16 Bridgewater State will face second seed Western New England College tomorrow at 12:00 p.m.
Wheaton junior Dan Haugh (Andover, MA/Saint John's Prep) was 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI while smacking his school-record 22nd double, while seniors Sean Munley (Ewing, NJ/The Hun School of Princeton) and Tad Skelley (Wolfeboro, NH/Holderness School) each went 2-for-4. Classmate Eric Laliberte (Nashua, NH/Bishop Guertin) had a pair of hits, while sophomore Eric Jensen (Gorham, NH/Gorham) had two runs and two walks. Classmate Justin Dickinson (Stratford, CT/Bunnell) gave up four earned runs on seven hits with two strikeouts and a pair of walks in four innings.
Junior Joshua Ferreira (Fall River, MA/Bishop Stang) went 3-for-5 with two RBI for Bridgewater State, while sophomore David Pierce (East Bridgewater, MA/East Bridgewater) was 2-for-3. Sophomore Tyler Dennis (Stoughton, MA/Stoughton) had two hits, junior Corey Batista (Fall River, MA/Bishop Connolly) drove in two runs, while senior Jeff Puopolo (Brockton, MA/Brockton) yielded two earned runs with 10 strikeouts and three walks on 10 hits in eight-plus innings. Junior Jim Balboni (Townsend, MA/Saint Bernard's) picked up the save.
Three infield singles by the Bears loaded the bags in the first, but Dickinson settled in to retire his next three batters, allowing just the one run on a sacrifice fly to right. Wheaton tied things up in the top of the second, using a pair of singles, a failed pickoff and a wild pitch to even the score, as Munley scored after leading off the frame with a base knock through the left side.
The Lyons rallied with two down in the third, with Jensen drawing a walk, stealing second and scoring on Haugh's RBI single to center. In the bottom of the fourth, Bridgewater State retook its lead with three runs on three hits, as Ferreira delivered the big blow with a two-run double to deep right before a sac fly made the score 4-2. Wheaton narrowed its gap to one the following frame, with Jensen drawing a two-out walk before being brought around on Haugh's double to left field.
Battista's two-run, two-out homer in the bottom of the seventh put the Bears in front by a 6-3 count. The Lyons threatened in the eighth but came away empty, jamming the bags with a walk and back-to-back singles, but Puopolo caught his next two batters swinging on strikes to thwart the threat.
Wheaton again loaded the bases in the ninth with nobody out. A groundout to second began a double play, as runner interference not only erased Jensen going to first but also forced the runners heading to third and home back a base, negating a Lyon run. Balboni then fanned his final batter to complete the game.