Brett Dooley dove across home plate, scoring on a wild pitch, and senior lefty Scott Strachan worked a scoreless bottom half of the ninth as Westfield State defeated Fitchburg State, 5-3, in the 2019 Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference baseball championship game at Archie Field in Springfield on Sunday.
The top-seeded Owls (27-14) win their second straight MASCAC title and earn the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament with the win.
The game was played in a steady rain, moved to the synthetic turf field at Springfield College in order to be completed today, as required by the NCAA deadline for the automatic bid to be determined on the field.
Westfield jumped on top with single run in the second inning, where Owls' senior first baseman and tournament MVP Aaron Clancy blasted a double that short-hopped the wall in left center field to lead off the inning. He came around to score on Jake Gibb's RBI single. The Owls had the bases loaded with one out in the inning, but Fitchburg starter Richard Sharp induced a 4-6-3 double play ball from Westfield's Michael Cruz to get out of the inning.
The Owls added a second run in the third inning when Clancy's base hit to right drove in Casey Boudreau, who had led off with a double.
Fitchburg kept the game close, getting a single run in the sixth on a single from Brendon Lefebvre and an RBI double to deep right center field from Nick Cordeau.
Westfield pushed the advantage to 3-1 in the top of the sixth, as Nick Martin yanked a high fly ball over the left-field fence for a solo home run.
The Falcons trimmed the lead back to 3-2 in the seventh as Brendan Ferrell pulled a pitch over the right field fence for a solo shot of his own.
Fitchburg tied the game at 3-3 in the eighth, loading the bases on two walks sandwiched around a base hit, and looked like they would grab the lead on Cordeau's 2-out base hit to right field. One run scored, Martin's throw from right skipped past Owls' catcher Gibb, but perfectly one-hopped to pitcher Shane Bogli on the play, with Bogli alertly diving to tag out the trail runner at the plate after the runner missed the plate while trying to avoid a tag play. A brief protest from the Falcons bench went unheard, and the game moved to the ninth tied at 3-3.
Dooley led off the top of the ninth with a walk, and was sacrificed to second by Tyler Beach. Fitchburg's Shawn Gamelin relieved Sharp, walking pinch-hitter Alex Benevidesand hitting Boudreau with a pitch to load the bases for Owls slugger Anthony Crowley. Gamelin skipped a pitch off home plate that went to the backstop and allowed Dooley to score from third on a diving slide that gave the Owls a 4-3 lead. After Crowley was intentionally walked, Colin Dunn reached on another base on balls to drive in pinch runner Steven Saucier with for a 5-3 Westfield lead before Gamelin fanned the last two hitters of the inning.
Strachan relieved Bogli to start the bottom of the ninth, and a one-out base hit from Noah Millard and a wild pitch created some drama before Strachan induced fly outs from the final two hitters to preserve the win.
Strachan's relief appearance was his 21st of the season, extending his own school record, and the 53rd of his career, which sets a school career record as well. He earned his second save of the season.
Westfield freshman Alex Honey started and pitched an effective five innings allowing four hits and just one earned run. Bogli (8-2) tossed three innings of relief work and earned his eighth win of the season, and may have come up with the play of the game with the tag to preserve the tie game.
Despite the wet conditions, there was just one error committed in the game. The Owls got several good fielding plays, as Dooley snared a hot smash at third to get the third out with two on in the second; Clancy stayed with a tough hop at first in the third inning to get the third out, and in the sixth with two men on, Bogli deflected a chopper back through the box that Dunn charged and fired across the diamond to get the final out and out of the jam.
Clancy was the only Owl hitter with two hits on the day. He had the hot bat throughout the tournament finishing 7-10 with three runs scored and four RBI in the final three games of the tourney.
Sharp was solid for Fitchburg, working 8.1 innings and allowing just seven hits and four runs. Cordeau, Ferrell, Millard and Tim Horton each had a pair of hits for the Falcons. Fitchburg ends its season with a 26-16 record.
The Owls will learn their destination and opponent in the NCAA Tournament on Monday, with a live selection show webstreamed on NCAA.com.