By Drew Karpen
WASHINGTON, Pa. -- After a sluggish start to the game, fourth-seeded and No. 16 Washington & Jefferson erupted for 12 runs on 18 hits to defeat fifth-seeded Misericordia, 12-7, in the opening game of the 2017 NCAA Division III Mideast Regional at Ross Memorial Park.
The Presidents (35-10) scored all their runs between the third and seventh inning, tagging Cougars ace Tim Burek -- who was the Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom Pitcher of the Year -- for six runs on 12 hits in five innings of work.
"A lot of credit to W&J," Misericordia head coach Pete Egbert said. "They have a really good offense. We knew that coming in. It was a combination of our pitchers not executing and their guys hitting some mistakes. We couldn't keep them off the board, even though our offense kept trying to get back in it."
The six senior starters led the way for the Presidents, combining for 14 of the 18 hits. Leading that charge was Adam LaRue (Imperial, Pa./West Allegheny), Nick Gatins (North Royalton, Ohio/North Royalton) and Kevin Begley (Allison Park, Pa./Deer Lakes). Out of the leadoff spot, LaRue went 4-for-5 with an RBI and two runs scored.
"I was just seeing the ball well today," LaRue said. "I was trying to do what I can to get on base and get something start."
Begley also had four hits, an RBI and two runs scored. Gatins went 3-for-4 with his sixth home run of the season and four RBI.
"I am really happy for Kevin (Begley)," Washington & Jefferson head coach Jeff Mountain said. "These two guys [Gatins and LaRue] and Kevin were not everyday players from day one. Kevin earned his way into the lineup this year. These guys work their tails off."
It was a shaky start defensively for the Presidents. The Cougars (30-13) jumped on the board first with two runs in the second, aided by a pair of W&J errors.
Middle Atlantic Conference Freedom Rookie of the Year Tyler Holzapfel started the inning with a single. Holzapel advanced to third after a two-base error. Holzapfel came around to score the first run of the regional after sliding ahead of a tag on a suicide squeeze play.
"At first I thought he had me, but I got underneath the tag," Holzapfel said. "It was big to get on the board first."
The Cougars scored the second run of the inning on a throwing error.
The Presidents evened the score in the bottom of the third with two runs, aided by a wild pitch. The first two runners reached base via a single and walk by LaRue and Derek Helbing (Pataskala, Ohio/Watkins Memorial), respectively. After a strikeout, LaRue and Helbing advanced to second and third on a wild pitch. LaRue came around to score W&J's first run on an RBI groundout by Frank Fortunato (Canonsburg, Pa./Canon-McMillan). With two outs, Gatins delivered a single up the middle to score Helbing for the 2-2 tie.
"Offensively, it was about as good as we could expect," Mountain said. "Early on, it took us a time through the order to figure their starter out. I love the way we competed with our two-out hits and our situational hitting."
The Presidents took their first lead of the game in the bottom of the fourth on a two-out RBI ground-rule double by Helbing. Begley, who doubled earlier in the inning, came around to score for the 3-2 lead.
The lead was short-lived. After recording two quick outs, the Cougars recorded three straight hits, with the big blow coming from Holzapfel. Holzapfel -- who finished 2-for-5 with two runs and two RBI -- hit a two-run double to right center to give the Cougars a 4-3 lead in the fifth.
The third lead change of the game would be the last, as the Presidents took the lead for good in the bottom of the fifth. After Gatins' home run tied the game, Ryan Sciullo (Vandergrift, Pa./Kiski Area) got the rally started again with a single. Sciullo advanced to third on a book-rule double by Mark Merlino (Irwin, Pa./Penn-Trafford) and came around to score on Begley's third hit of the game to make it 5-4 Presidents. W&J tacked on another run on a fielder's choice by Dante Dalesandro (Pittsburgh, Pa./Mount Lebanon).
Misericordia continued to threat but couldn't get that clutch hit. After chasing Presidents starter Riley Groves (Louisville, Ohio/Louisville) in the sixth inning, Santino Platt (Pittsburgh, Pa./OLSH) came on to strand the runners on second and third, getting a one-pitch flyout.
"That was big," Mountain said. "Santino earned the opportunity based on how he pitched the second half of the season. I had a tough time today trying to mix and match with the bullpen."
W&J opened the game up with five runs in the seventh to put away the Cougars.
The Cougars left 15 runners on base and will be forced to run the table if they want a chance at the title.
"Once you get in the loser's bracket in these double elimination tournaments, it is a long road back," Egbert said. "We feel like we have the pitching to be able to do that. The greatest thing about this game is you don't have to wait a week to come back. We have a young club. I am anxious to see how they respond."
After losing their first game in the regional two years ago, the Presidents know how important it is to win that first game.
"It gives us a better chance," Mountain said. "With a eight-team, double elimination tournament, it is a lot of baseball if you lose that first game. We believe we could make it through in any circumstance, but you set yourself up for success when you win that first game."
Notes: Groves got the win to improve to 9-2 on the season and pick up his 26th career win, tied for the second most in program history. Gatins' double in the in the seventh inning was his 17th of the year, tying the W&J single-season mark. Nick Vento (Murrysville, Pa./Franklin Regional) recorded a pair of doubles to move into first place by himself with 49 career doubles.
W&J knocks out 18 hits in 12-7 NCAA Regional opening win
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By Drew Karpen