MANSFIELD Conn. – Senior Conor Fahey’s decision to miss graduation almost paid off for WPI.
Two days after throwing 140 pitches against Suffolk in the opening game of the New England Regional of the NCAA Division III tournament, the righthander hurled 163 gutsy pitches over eight and a third innings in a elimination game against top seeded Eastern Connecticut, on a day when his classmates received their diplomas.
Trailing 5-3 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Warriors pushed three runs across the plate to emerge with a 6-5 win and end WPI’s season.
“It’s a shame somebody had to lose that ballgame,” Eastern head coach Bob Holowaty said. “Their kid pitched a great ballgame and our kids just hung around and hung around and got fortunate at the end to escape. We know the feeling of WPI, we’ve faced those many times and had those heartbreaks.”
WPI trailed 3-1 early, but scored two in the sixth and one in the seventh to take the lead.
Junior Scott Moreau led off the ninth with a wind blown home run over the left field, sending the WPI dugout into an uproar of cheers.
But the top seeded Warriors weren’t done yet. After blowing out Husson 18-3 in the morning game, Eastern saved its hits for when they mattered in the second game.
With one out, sophomore Jim Schult lined a hard shot off the glove fresham Nick Bean at third. Senior Shawn Gilblair followed with a single to right, sending Schult to third. Fahey then walked senior Melvin Castillo, the Warriors’ leading home run hitter, to load the bases.
Senior Tristan Hobbes roped a hard shot through the right side to tie the game and Castillo to third.
Sophomore Robert Perry laced a shot to Bean that the third baseman snagged with a hard dive to his right. He looked up, held Castillo on the bag, and fired to first. But his throw skipped to the fence, enabling Castillo to slip home.
“It’s tough when you’re battling a kid with that much guts,” Hobbe said. “Give credit to him he did his best. He’s a senior he wanted to win that game as much as anybody else in this field did.”
Despite throwing 303 pitches over the past three days, pitch count, along with his decision to miss graduation, were some of the last things on Fahey’s mind.
“There’s not really a number on that kind of thing,” Fahey said. “You do what you’ve got to do, [it’s] senior year, so why not? I didn’t even consider going to graduation to quite honest with you, I’d rather be here throwing with my teammates.”
Fahey (8-2) threw eight and a third innings, striking out seven Warriors while allowing just three earned runs on ten hits. Junior Wes Dutton (1-1) picked up the win in relief for Eastern.
The loss ended a historic season for fourth seeded WPI (30-13), which saw the Engineers set the school record for wins and make the NCAA tournament and win the regular season championship for the first time in the program’s 106 year history.
“Teams like the Eastern Connecticuts, and the Trinitys and the Southern Maines are here year in and year out,” WPI head coach Mike Callahan said. “This is just another part of the season for them. Obviously, the games are a little more meaningful, but they know what to expect. Our guys didn’t know what to expect here…. the weren’t just happy to make it here, I know their goal was defintely to win it. I think they left their mark on this tournament and opened some eyes around New England.”
With the win, Eastern (39-7) will face defending national champions and third seeded Trinity tomorrow at 1 p.m. The Warriors will need to win that game to survive. If they do, the two teams will play a 5 p.m. game to determine a regional champion.
“I thought the home run in the top of the ninth inning was the dagger,” Holowaty said. “Somehow we recovered and went forward and give the kids credit, they’ve been very competitive all year long… It’s been a good run and hopefully we can get by Trinity tomorrow and make it a longer run. I don’t want to stop our season and hopefully we can be fortunate tomorrow and take two from Trinity.”