NCAA Tournament: Patriots Rally but Fall Short of Series Berth, Lose 8-4
MOUNT OLIVE, NC – First baseman Chris Dula rapped out three hits and drove in three runs to lead sixth-seeded and 21st-ranked Catawba College to an 8-4 win over fourth-seeded and sixth-ranked Francis Marion University, Sunday evening (May 20) in the championship game at the NCAA Division II Southeast Regional Baseball Tournament.
Francis Marion ends its season at 40-18 and finishes as the regional runner-up for the third consecutive season. The Patriots finish with their fourth 40-win season, and third in a row. FMU was looking to win its second region championship, the first coming in 2006.
The Indians (43-15) earn their first-ever berth in the Division II National Finals in Cary, N.C., May 26-June 2. Catawba had beaten Tusculum College 6-1 earlier on Sunday to advance to face FMU in the title contest.
Playing their final games in a Patriot uniform, senior outfielders Buddy Sosnoskie and Tyler Boyd each registered three hits, a run scored, and one run batted in. Sosnoskie set a new single-season team record with 92 hits, breaking the previous mark of 89 set by Barrett Kleinknecht. Boyd appeared in his 194th game for the red, white, and blue.
FMU sophomore shortstop Michael Wilson and senior second baseman Brock McCallister each had two hits apiece. Both Sosnoskie and Wilson were named to the All-Tournament Team.
FMU sophomore closer Jeffrey Stoner (6-4), the third of three Patriot hurlers, was saddled with the loss. He allowed four runs (three earned) on five hits in four innings. The Martinez, Ga., native had pitched in both of Francis Marion's games on Saturday, earning one win and logging 6.1 innings.
Catawba scored twice in the top of the first off FMU starter Spencer Jordan. Dula led off with a long double to base of the right center field fence. A single and a four-pitch walk loaded the bases with no out. After a strikeout, tournament Most Outstanding Player Julio Zubillaga plated the first run with a two-strike bloop RBI single to center. The second tally came home on a wild pitch, but Jordan recovered to strikeout Cameron Beard and strand three Indian base runners.
Francis Marion threatened in the bottom of the first. Wilson and McCallister both singled through right side with no outs. After Jarrod Reed struck out, Sosnoskie skewed a ball toward the hole between short and third, but Catawba shortstop Brett Underwood saved a run by making a diving stop in the hole. However the infield single loaded the bases with just one out. Third baseman Stephen Tarkenton then lofted a fly ball to medium-depth left field, and Wilson beat the throw home for what looked like the first Patriot run. However on appeal, Wilson was ruled to have left third before the catch and so FMU was denied its first run and Catawba was out of the inning.
Boyd singled to right field in the next FMU frame, and advanced to second on a wild pitch, but was left there as the next two Patriots were retired.
Catawba struck for two more runs in the top of the third on an RBI single to center by catcher Greg Lawson. Beard followed with a run-scoring bunt single that started as a safety squeeze.
Francis Marion finally got to Catawba starter Nick Lomascolo in the bottom of the fourth. Sosnoskie started the rally with a double just inside first base bag, his school-record 25th two-bagger of the year. He moved up a base on Tarkenton's fly out to center, and catcher Jacob Golliday walked on a full-count offering to place runners at first and third with one out.
Boyd drilled a run-scoring single through the right side to plate Sosnoskie and draw FMU within 4-1. After Brian Paulhus lined out to left field, pinch-hitter Luke Tollison bounced an RBI single up the middle on an 0-2 pitch to cut the margin to 4-2. Wilson followed with a drive to right field that hit the top of the fence and bounced back into play for an RBI double, but Tollison was nailed at the plate on a beautiful relay throw from Zubillaga. That play could have put the Patriots ahead, but none-the-less brought FMU to within 4-3.
After a quick 1-2-3 inning from senior southpaw Matt Broderick in the top of the fifth, the Patriot bats again came alive in their half of the frame. McCallister reached on a single to right center, advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt, and crossed home with the tying run on a run-scoring single up the middle by Sosnoskie. Following a pitching change, Tarkenton was hit by a pitch and Golliday flared a single to right field to load the bases with one out. The Indians then turned a slick 6-4-3 double play on a grounder by Boyd to end the threat.
Stoner entered the contest in the top of the sixth with runners on first and third and no outs. He retired the Indians without a run, thanks in large part to a long-running catch by Boyd in left center to end the inning.
Catawba then struck for the deciding two runs in the top of the seventh. Zubillaga led off with an infield single, Underwood reached on an error, and Lawson poked a soft single to left that loaded the bases with nobody out. Ironically, both Underwood and Lawson were unsuccessful at sacrificing and thus had to hit away with two strikes. With a light rain beginning to fall, Stoner retired the next Indian on a line-out to right, but Keaton Hawks plated the go-ahead run with a single to right and Dula pushed across a second run with a sacrifice fly.
In the last of the eighth, Tarkenton led off with a single through the left side. After a fly out, Boyd singled through right side to put the tying runs on base. However Catawba reliever Craig Brooks (2-0) got Paulhus to pop out and fanned Tollison looking to end the Patriot rally.
The Indians added a pair of insurance runs in the top of the ninth on a two-run triple to the right center field fence by Dula.
Brooks retired the Patriots in order in the bottom of the ninth with the rain coming down as hard as it had all day on three ground balls to Underwood at shortstop. Three of Brooks' four complete innings were of the 1-2-3 variety.
Eleven Patriot seniors donned the red, white, and blue uniforms for the final time on Sunday. This group finished as the winningest four-year class in the program's history with 159 victories.
"I thought we played well enough to win today, but left too many runners on base," said FMU head coach Art Inabinet. "We could have won, but not today. Catawba was just a better team. Our kids did a lot of good things today, but just didn't get the key hits, and they (Catawba) did."
Jordan commented on his effort that came on short rest after he won the team's tournament opener on Thursday, "I just didn't make the pitches, and thus could not get ahead like I did Thursday."
Boyd, one of four four-year letterwinners on the squad, said "You don't ever want the last game of the year to come around. But we can't let our heads dip down, we have a lot to be proud of."
Sosnoskie offered this, "It always hurts to lose the last game of the year, and maybe a little worse this year than it did in 2011 (last year's regional title game loss). These past two seasons in Florence at FMU have has been the best two years of my life. I am so glad I came here. I plan on wearing this (rain-soaked) jersey all the way home."
In earning All-Tournament Team recognition, Sosnoskie finished the five games 9-for-21 with five runs scored and seven RBIs, while Wilson was 7-for-22 with six runs scored and five driven in.