PRINCE ATHLETIC COMPLEX – The University of Rochester baseball captured its first ever Liberty League Tournament title, defeating Clarkson University twice on Saturday afternoon at Towers Field.
The Yellowjackets mounted a big rally in Saturday's must win contests, winning game one 8-7 after trailing by six runs in the early going. In the winner-take-all final game, Rochester jumped out to 4-0 lead after one inning and finished off an 8-2 win to claim the victory.
Rochester (28-15), earns the conference's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament, qualifying for the national tournament for the first time since the 1999 season.
Senior Aiden Finch was named the tournament's Most Outstanding Player after hitting 11-23 (.478) with 7 runs scored, 3 doubles, 4 RBI and a key late-game home-run which proved to be the winning hit in the opener.
Clarkson (23-17), continued its hot hitting from Friday in Saturday's championship round, scoring six times in the top of first inning after sending 11 hitters to the plate. The Golden Knights defeated Rochester a day earlier in the winners bracket game, 16-9, pounding out 21 hits in the process to reach 2-0 in the championship.
Rochester made a pitching change and got some key plays of the next few innings, giving the hosts some life.
"It way typical baseball, there's no time or clock running, and you have to get all 27 outs to win," said UR head coach Joe Reina. "[The start] wasn't how we wanted it to go, but to have Kevin [Ho] come in and do what he did, is ideal. We just kept chipping and chipping and once we got in the latter innings, we had a chance."
In the bottom of the first, Rochester got two of those runs back right away, when Jack Herman and Harper Sy each laced RBI singles to left field.
Clarkson looked to answer right back, recording three hits in the next inning, but a strong throw from right fielder Jake Hertz gunned down a potential run at the plate, before reliever Kevin Ho escaped the inning getting a ground out.
The Yellowjackets kept fighting, scraping a run across in the third on a Sy double to left center, scoring Aiden Finch who led off the frame with a single.
Ho settled in after that, facing just one over the minimum from the fourth through seventh innings. The senior righty picked the perfect time for his best outing of the season, going 6.2 innings allowing just five hits and two walks with four strikeouts.
UR kept fighting its way back into the game, scoring two more times in the bottom of the fourth. David Rieth reached on a throwing error on a bunt to lead off. Joseph Rende followed with a bunt single of his own, which after the throw got away from the first basemen, allowed Rieth to come around and score.
After Finch laced a double off the left-center field wall put runners at second and third with no-outs, Clarkson went to the bullpen. After a pop out, Herman picked up another RBI base hit, his second of the game to make the score 6-5 Golden Knights.
Rochester then took the lead in the bottom of the seventh inning, setting Ho up for a win after a 1-2-3 top half of the frame. Steve Pickering reached on a one-out single, and Jake Hertz, a hero from Friday nights elimination game win over RIT, followed with a double down the right field line to put runners at second and third.
Kyle Trombley lifted a sacrifice fly to center to bring in the tying run, and then Rieth found the hole between short and third, driving in the go-ahead run, putting Rochester up 7-6 through seven innings.
The lead was short lived though, when a couple fortunate breaks went Clarkson's way in the eighth.
Rochester turned to closer Brendan Shamieh for the save. He gave up a single to Joe Stockman to lead off the inning. After a sac bunt, Mike Tito singled to right thanks to the sun blinding UR's fielders, putting runners on the corners.
The next batter, Tony Bianchi, then grounded a ball to second, where Rochester's Sy and Rende tried to turn the double-play, but were a hair too late to first base, allowing the tying run to cross home plate on the fielders choice.
The Yellowjackets answered right back though. Finch led off the bottom of the eighth and was hit by the first pitch of the inning, only to have it ruled a strike after he did not make an attempt to get out of the way. After another ball, the senior first basemen then clobbered the next pitch over the left center fence and onto Wilson Boulevard for the 8-7 Rochester lead.
In the ninth, Shamieh pitched around a two-out single by Nolan Duda to close out the game one victory.
Finch finished 3-5 in game one a triple shy of the cycle, also scoring three times. Herman was also 3-5 at the plate with two driven in and Sy followed with two RBI and two hits.
Clarkson's leader was Brad Pearson who went 3-5 with a run. Both Vincent Granuzzo and Mike Nee added two hits and a run scored.
Game two couldn't have started much better for the top-seeded Yellowjackets. Junior Garrett Renslow started on the mound less than 48 hours after he tossed a 111-pitch no-hitter on Thursday against RPI in UR's tournament opening win. He pitched around a 1-out walk in the first, putting up a key zero on the scoreboard.
The bottom of the inning saw 2-3-4 hitters, Rende, Finch and Jacob Matzat all single, loading the bases for Herman, the team's leading home run hitter. Herman got ahead in the count 3-1 and then lifted a booming fly ball to left field which dropped over the fence for a grand slam, putting the Yellowjackets on top 4-0 after one inning.
Renslow allowed his first hit of the tournament in the second inning, a single by Granuzzo to center field. After a walk, put two runners on, the junior got out of trouble, getting a ground out and fly out to maintain the four run cushion.
Clarkson got on the board in the fourth inning thanks to a two out error which allowed Pearson, who led off the inning with a double to scamper home.
Renslow allowed just the one unearned run in 3.2 innings, picking up the victory on the mound for Rochester. He allowed two hits and three walks while striking out two.
Jon Turk relieved and tossed 1.1 innings of scoreless ball, less than a day after throwing seven strong in UR's win over RIT on Friday.
Herman launched his second home run of the game in the sixth inning, getting Rochester back up by four with a solo shot over the scoreboard in left field.
The Golden Knights answered though with a run off of reliever Dan Agate ion the seventh. A leadoff hit batter followed by a Tito double to left put a run in and another in scoring position.
Hank Powers came to the hill for two lefty-lefty matchups, giving up a single before recording a big strikeout of Perason for the first out.
After the left-handed hitters, UR turned to Shamieh once again. The junior right hander got a ground ball up the middle which ended the inning following a 6-4-3 double-play.
Rochester's Rieth knocked in Trombley in the bottom half of the inning, once again putting the Yellowjackets up four, sitting at 6-2 after seven innings.
Shamieh stranded two runners on in the eighth and the Yellowjacket offense rewarded him with two insurance runs in the bottom of the inning, both coming off the bat of Hertz when he singled up the middle with the bases loaded.
In the ninth, Clarkson could manage only a one-out double by Bianchi, with the final out going across the diamond, Herman to Finch, earning Rochester its first ever league title.
Herman finished game two 2-2 with 2 home runs, 5 RBI and 3 runs scored. Finch went 2-4 with two runs scored.
Clarkson's Bianchi went 2-4 with a double and was the Golden Knights lone multi-hit performance. On the mound, Jake Scurrah took the loss, surrendering four runs on four hits in three innings of work. Glenn Stever and Mike Bubniak finished out the game for CU and each gave up two earned runs.
"It was difficult the way we did it, but I couldn't be happier for the guys with the way it ended," said Reina following the win.