MANSFIELD CONN.- While the first NCAA regional game between WPI and Suffolk went down to the wire, the second game of the day between Babson and Eastern Connecticut was decided early thanks to a barrage of hits by the Beavers and a 158 pitch, ten strikeout complete game by sophomore Andrew Aizenhadt.
Eighth seeded Babson took a 2-0 lead in the first but blew the game open in the second with seven runs against the top seeded Warriors and held on for a 10-6 win.
“You get to this point in the season, to an NCAA tournament, you stretch it a little longer then you probably should, but he wanted the ball,” Babson head coach Matt Noone said of Aizenhadt’s performance.
The outing was the righthander’s sixth complete game of the season and his performance wasn’t lost on Eastern head coach Bill Holowaty.
“He did a heck of a job pitching,” the 41st year head coach said. “He bulldogged that game and he didn’t give up and persisted, and he won out.”
Eastern junior Matt Fontaine (6-2) walked junior Jake Barlett to start the second inning. Bartlett scored on sophomore Billy Besinger’s RBI single, barreling over senior Andrew Magliola at the plate. Besinger went to second and sophomore Corey Highfield, who had reached on a fielder’s choice, advanced to third.
Freshman Travis Jonasson’s single brought both runners home and knocked Fontaine out of the game.
He was replaced by junior Mike Tingley, who gave up a single and a walk to his first two batters.
With the bases loaded, freshman Sean Cleary battled lofted a ball that got caught in the wind and drifted over the left field wall for a grand slam. It was Cleary’s first collegiate home run and capped off the momentous second inning for the Beavers.
“It was a 2-2 count, he missed on a curveball before so knew he was going to come with a fastball,” Cleary said. “There was only one out so I just tried to get a sac fly and get the runner in but I got a pitch I could handle and must have got lucky. [Home runs] don’t come too often [for me].”
Eastern got the leadoff batter on in each of the first three innings, but each time Aizenstadt was able to squash any thoughts of a rally with a double play.
But the Warriors, who entered the game hitting .357, tacked on five runs in the fourth, getting their first seven batters on base.
“Someone said that they score in bunches, so that was just their inning I guess.” Aizenstadt said. “They were hitting the ball hard and I wasn’t getting ahead of many hitters.”
After senior Shawn Giblair’s RBI double, senior Tristan Hobbes rolled a single to second that scored two runs to make it 9-3.
Two batters later, freshman Steve Cammuso pinch hit and lined a 1-2 pitch into center that scored a pair of runs and sliced Babson’s lead to 9-5.
“Although we had a big lead early, you know with their offense and how they play that’s a close game no matter what the score is,” Noone said. “So we were playing and managing as if it was a one run game the whole way through.”
Babson scored its final run in the top of the fifth on an RBI double by Highfield.
The Warriors threatened throughout the game, tallying fourteen hits off Aizenstadt, but were never able to overcome the early deficit despite solid relief pitching from senior James Kukucka and junior Wes Dutton, who combined to hurl six and a third innings, allowing just one run on five hits.
Eastern added their final run in the eighth on a RBI single by junior John Parke.
“He stayed away lot,” Giblair said of Aizenhadt. “He didn’t work inside, maybe we got a little tense [with runners on base].”
Babson (23-18, 6-6) will face WPI in the winner’s bracket game tomorrow at 4:30 p.m. Eastern (35-7, 11-3) will take on Suffolk in the loser’s bracket at 10:30.
WPI swept Babson in a doubleheader on March 28, the only time the two teams met.
“These tournaments are fun,” Noone said. “You’re at the park all day, around baseball. Our exams are over so we can kind of relax and just enjoy a year’s worth of hard work and be in a tournament with good teams.”