MANSFIELD CONN.- The opening game of the Division III New England regional began with a dominating pitching performance by WPI senior Conor Fahey that appeared to put the Engineers in line for an easy win. But a late rally by Suffolk forced WPI to produce a comeback of their own to pull out the win at Eastern Connecticut Baseball Stadium.
Trailing 6-2 entering the top of the eighth, the Rams rallied for for runs to tie the game. But WPI answered with a run in the bottom half of the inning off senior Dan Delia. Sophomore Bryan Watkins led off with a single and was bunted to second by junior Cody McGregor. Junior Joe Walsh blooped a single to right to bring him home and give WPI a 7-6 lead and their first NCAA tournament win in their first appearance over the program’s 106 year history.
“All year, its been a total team effort” Walsh said. “We’ve been lead by our leaders. I thought it was great that I could step up and help them out. I was just trying to get the barrel on the ball, [a] half swing is the way to do it man. ”
Suffolk’s rally didn’t surprise WPI head coach Mike Callahan.
“It was a well fought game,” Callahan said.”We were up early against a good team and we knew they would fight back.”
Each team scored a run in the first and the Engineers touched senior Tim Doyle for two runs in the of bottom of the third. Junior Mark Dignum lined a 1-0 pitch that’ snuck over the wall for his fifth home run of the season. Junior Paul Galligan followed with a double and came home on junior Mark Moreau’s single to give WPI a 3-1 lead.
Doyle ran into some control problems in the sixth, walking senior Scott McNee and freshman Nick Bean to start the inning. Freshman Nick McClune squared around to bunt but drew back. A snap throw to second by junior catch Bobby Barrett caught McNee too far off the bag. After McClune flied to right, Bean stole second and sophomore Bryan Watkins walked, putting runners on first and second for junior Cody McGregor, who lined an RBI single to left.
But Doyle struck out Walsh to end the inning.
The Rams added a run in the top of the seventh when Carter lined his first home run of the year leading off the inning.
“He had a real good day for himself,” Suffolk head coach Cary McConnell said. “He’s a guy we lean on.”
But Fahey rebounded to strike out two batters in the inning and keep the lead at 4-2.
“I’ve pitched in some big games before but this is obviously the biggest,” said Fahey, who was starting on three days rest for the third time this season. It’s a privilege to be able to play here as a senior and get an at large bid.”
WPI added two runs in the bottom of the inning off sophomore Alex Torres. Moreau smacked an RBI double to left and came home on a single by Bean that snaked its way up the middle to gave the Engineers a 6-2 lead.
Suffolk refused to go away and with runners on second and third in the eighth, Barrett lofted a fly ball to right that McNee dropped to load the bases. Carter once again victimized Fahey, lining a three run double to the right center gap to make it 6-5. Sophomore Jon Handy knocked him home to tie the game at six. Fahey struck out junior Mike Kenneally but walked senior Anthony Iacopucci before giving way to junior Thomas Whiting, who ran the count full to Mark Adessa before the sophomore grounded out to short.
Suffolk had sophomore Travis Travelyn on third with one out in the ninth. With the infield in, senior Rory Gentile bounced a ball to short and Travelyn was cut down trying to score. Barrett singled to deep short to put runners on first and second and bring up Carter, who was a single short of the cycle. But the dangerous cleanup hitter flew out to right to end the game. Freshman Sean Minor got the save in his second relief appearance on the season. Fahey finished the day with 11 strikeouts.
Whiting (2-1) picked up the win, while Delia (7-2) was charged with the loss.
Suffolk (30-9, 12-3) will take on the loser of the Eastern Connecticut Babson game, which is currently underway. Game time is 10 a.m. tomorrow. WPI will take on the winner of the current game at 4:30 p.m.
“We’ve been together for 40 games,” McConnell said. “I don’t think are guys are going to roll over. We’re going to show up tomorrow and compete.”