BRIDGEPORT, Conn. - In the final game of the regular season, the Monmouth University baseball team, the No. 1 seed in the upcoming Northeast Conference Tournament, fell to Sacred Heart, 11-9, Saturday afternoon at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. The Hawks, who are playing in their sixth-straight NEC Tournament, will enter postseason play with a 33-22 (21-11 NEC) record, while the Pioneers', who clinched the final playoff spot with their victory, improve to 22-30 (19-13 NEC).
Seeding for the remaining teams in the upcoming NEC Tournament, to be held at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, Connecticut, May 17-20 is still unclear. Fairleigh Dickinson (18-13 NEC), which still has a game remaining at LIU Brooklyn tomorrow, has control of its own destiny as a victory against the Blackbirds would secure the Knights the No. 2 seed, but a loss could drop FDU to the four seed. Sacred Heart and Central Connecticut State, which split its season series back in March, both finished with a 19-13 record in NEC play. As league tiebreaking procedures indicates, the tie is broken by taking the winning percentage of each team versus the first-place team, Bryant, which won the NEC Regular Season Championships, but cannot qualify for postseason play as it serves its final season of the NCAA-mandated four-year reclassification waiting period from Division II. The Pioneers earned one victory over the Bulldogs, while the Blue Devils were swept, leaving SHU with the tiebreaker.
Using the benefit of three Sacred Heart errors and pair of hits, Monmouth jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Steve Wilgus (Woolwich, N.J./Gloucester Catholic) reached on a fielding blunder by the shortstop and moved to second on a single by Josh Boyd (Port Murray, N.J./West Morris Central). Jake Gronsky (Danville, Pa./Danville Area) registered a bases-clearing double and reached third as his hit was misplayed by the leftfielder. On the next play, John Murphy recorded his second error of the inning at short on Danny Avella's (Matawan, N.J./Christian Brothers Academy) groundball, allowing Gronsky to score the final run of the half inning.
SHU responded in the bottom of the frame, putting four runs on the board on three this, highlighted by a bases loaded-clearing double by Hunter Phillips.
Wilgus earned a lead-off walk to start the fifth, moved to second as Gronsky was hit by a pitch and both runners came around to score on Avella's two-run double. Jamie Rosenkranz (Oakhurst, N.J./Ocean Township) connected on a RBI single, plating Avella, and moved to second on the throw home. Chris Perret (Morris Plains, N.J./Morris Catholic) capped off the inning with a RBI double, putting the Blue and White ahead, 7-4.
SHU again responded to the Hawks' offense in the ensuing half inning, registering four-straight hits to start the frame and, after a pitching change, a RBI fielder's choice groundout by Phillips knotted the game at 7-7.
MU attempted to distance itself on the scoreboard again in the seventh inning as Avella and Rosenkranz started things off with singles and moved up a base on a wild pitch. After Perret walked to load the bases, Jon Guida (Martinsville, N.J./Bridgewater Raritan) connected on a RBI single, scoring Avella and, a bases loaded walk to Kyle Perry (Toms River, N.J./Toms River South) which scored Rosenkranz put the Hawks ahead by two, 9-7.
The Pioneers continued the trend of answering MU's offense as the home squad received a three-run double by Conor McEvoy to put SHU ahead for good. Sacred Heart tacked on a run in the bottom of the eighth on Jim Perez's RBI single through the left side to increase its lead to 11-9.
Avella drove in three runs on two hits and scored twice, while Rosenkranz, Boyd, and Guida each registered a multi-hit afternoon.
In a no decision, MU starter Andrew McGee (Toms River, N.J./Toms River South) surrendered seven runs on eight hits with three strikeouts, while Stephen Frey (Washingtonville, N.Y./Washingtonville) worked a perfect two frames of relief with two punch-outs. Adam Yunginger (Lancaster, Pa./Manheim Township) suffers the loss after working a third of an inning, allowing three runs, while T.J. Hunt (Wyckoff, N.J./Ramapo) and Charlie Battis (Hamilton, N.J./Notre Dame) combined to pitch the final 1.2 innings on the hill.
Monmouth, which is making its league-leading 16th appearance in the Northeast Conference Tournament, will look to earn its fifth NEC crown beginning Thursday. Times for the tournament have not been announced and will be updated on both www.GoMUHawks.com and www.NortheastConference.org.