NEW CASTLE, Del. – No. 1 seed Felician University won the 2016 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Baseball Championship tournament by earning two victories over No. 4 seed Philadelphia University, 9-2 and 13-8, during Saturday's championship round. The tournament was hosted by Wilmington (Del.) University at Wilson Field.
The CACC championship is the second for the Golden Falcons in baseball, with the other coming in 2014. Felician earns the CACC's automatic qualifier into the NCAA Division II Tournament. The NCAA field and pairings will be announced on Sunday at 10 p.m. on www.NCAA.com.
"This team has tremendous heart and an unbelievable work ethic," said Felician junior outfielder Andrew LaMura (Brick, N.J./Red Bank Catholic), who was named the tournament's Most Valuable Player. "It's a special group with a great love for one another. I wouldn't want to be a part of any other team."
Felician (33-19) lost its first-round game to Philadelphia on Thursday, then won consecutive elimination contests over No. 2 seed Chestnut Hill College on Thursday and No. 6 Dominican (N.Y.) College on Friday. Thus the Golden Falcons entered Saturday needing two victories over Philadelphia to claim the title. They began the day with a 9-2 triumph, forcing the tournament's "if necessary" game to be played for the first time in 10 years.
Felician broke out for seven runs on five hits in the bottom of the second inning of Game 2. With one out, Mike Martone (Brick, N.J./Brick Memorial), J.R. Meneses (Lake Worth, Fla./Zion Lutheran) and Bruce Strickland (Hazlet, N.J./Raritan) picked up consecutive RBI singles to open the scoring. With two outs, Matt Diesel (Massapequa Park, N.Y./Massapequa) produced another run-scoring hit before LaMura capped the rally with a three-run home run.
"We came out firing," LaMura said. "You have to pitch well from 1 to 9 to get through our line-up. We've been good all year with runners on base, especially with two outs, and it showed again today."
The Rams (23-28) scored three times in the top of the fifth, but Felician answered with three of its own in the bottom half, highlighted by Meneses' RBI double. But Philadelphia continued to claw its way back into the game. Fernando Garza (Laredo, Texas/Alexander) hit a three-run home run with none out in the sixth, and the Golden Falcons made an early call to closer Danny Naif (Jackson, N.J./Jackson Liberty). The Rams plated another run in the sixth and one in the seventh, but combined to leave five runners on in the two frames.
Naif righted himself with a perfect eighth, and the Golden Falcons plated three unearned runs without a hit in the home half. Naif worked around a one-out error to retire the Rams in the ninth and break the Felician record with his ninth save of the season, setting off a raucous celebration.
Diesel went 3 for 5 and LaMura drove in four runs for Felician. Senior Dean Loucka (Wood-Ridge, N.J./Wood-Ridge) (3-4) worked five innings for the victory, allowing three runs on six hits in five innings with a career-high nine strikeouts. The three Golden Falcons pitchers survived surrendering 10 walks, as Philadelphia left 13 men on base.
Junior right-hander Matt Blandino (Bristol, Conn./Bristol Central) gave the Golden Falcons a lift when he came in from the bullpen in the day's opening game to escaped a bases-loaded two-out jam in the top of the fifth inning and preserve the Golden Falcons' 3-2 lead. Pitching on one day of rest off of a 7 1/3 inning effort in Thursday's loss, Blandino tossed 2 1/3 scoreless one-hit frames and was credited with the victory.
Felician broke the game open with three runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth. Strickland was 3 for 5 and Diesel drove in three runs.
Diesel was 5 for 9 with three doubles on the day and junior catcher Matt Kleinstein (Marlboro, N.J./Colts Neck) picked up two hits in each game.
"This has been an awesome group to be a part of," LaMura said. "We have something really special that I can't even describe. We stared adversity in the face, and came through it together."
Overall, Saturday is the 14th CACC title for the Felician athletics program. The Golden Falcons have won nine in men's cross-country, two in men's soccer and one in men's basketball.