TCNJ takes NJAC title in comeback fashion

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Union, NJ … Just as so many baseball games have concluded during its 2017 season, The College of New Jersey came from behind and seized victory in walk-off fashion to defeat Ramapo College, 7-6 in the New Jersey Athletic Conference championship game.

The Lions (31-11) erased an early 5-0 deficit, and then scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth to win a thrilling contest in the NJAC Tournament final. TCNJ punched its ticked to the 2017 NCAA Division III Baseball Championship Tournament by winning its first conference title since 2009. They will now await word from the NCAA Selection Committee, which will announce the national tournament brackets on Sunday evening, May 14th.

Trailing 6-5 in the ninth, Patrick Anderson (Long Valley, NJ/West Morris Central) led off the inning by legging out an infield single to the right of the second baseman. Zachary Shindler (Wantagh, NY/Wantagh) reached on a fielder' choice and advanced to second on a ball in the dirt. CJ Gearhart (Robbinsville, NJ/Robbinsville) drew a walk to bring up Jacob Simon (Hightstown, NJ/Hightstown). The freshman worked an eight-pitch at bat before hitting a hard ground ball to second with the runners in motion. Gearhart was ruled safe on the force at second, and on the throw to first, the ball skipped past the first baseman to allow Shindler to score and tie the game.

Mike Follet (Marlton, NJ/Cherokee) was intentionally walked to load the bases, bringing up pinch hitter Austin Lindsay (New Egypt, NJ/New Egpyt). He worked a full count and the final pitch of the game missed up and in to force in the game-winning run and set off a wild celebration.

TCNJ found itself down early in the championship bout. The Roadrunners scored a run in the second, and a double and a pair home runs in the third staked them to a 5-0 lead.

The Lions cut the deficit to three runs back with a pair in the fourth. With two outs, Simon and Follet drew walks. Alex Christian (Milltown, NJ/Spotswood) singled to left to score Follet and put TCNJ on the board. Tommy McCarthy (Allentown, NJ/Allentown) followed with a base hit through the shortstop hole to plate Follet to make it a 5-2 game.

Brandon Zachary (Cherry Hill, NJ/Cherry Hill West) battled through a rocky start to pitch a scoreless fourth, fifth, and sixth to keep the Lions in the game. He struck out five in six innings. Sophomore Zac deRocco (Red Bank, NJ/Middletown South) came on in relief to pitch two scoreless innings and hold the Roadrunner offense in check.

McCarthy led off the seventh with his second hit of the game. He advanced into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt by Ben Varone (Marlton, Cherokee). Persichetti then punched a base hit through the middle to score McCarthy and TCNJ trailed 5-3.

In the eighth, Gearhart drew a walk and stole second. With two away, Christian drove a shot that beat the right fielder for an RBI double to score Gearhart. Sophomore Danny Borup (Plainsboro, NJ/West Windsor-South) came in to pinch-run for Christian. McCarthy walked, which set the state for Varone. He laced a two-strike single to right to score Borup and tie the game 5-5.

Ramapo answered with a run in the top of the ninth off junior Matt Curry (Marlton, NJ/Cherokee). A pair of hits put runners in scoring position and a sacrifice fly with one out gave them a 6-5 lead.

But the formula that has worked 15 times this season struck again. Curry enters the contest to either secure a victory, or pick-pocket a win. Either way, his mojo on the mound pays uncanny dividends for the Lions as they came back with an exhilarating triumph to give Head Coach Dean Glus his second NJAC championship and locked up the team's second straight NCAA appearance.

Anderson, Christian, and McCarthy all finished with two hits on the night and TCNJ moved to 12-1 overall when they play errorless defense.