DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Felician University fell behind by five runs after seven innings, then brought the tying run to the plate before suffering a 6-3 non-conference baseball loss to host Embry-Riddle (Fla.) Aeronautical University on Friday evening at Sliwa Stadium. The Golden Falcons and Eagles were meeting for the first time.
Felician, the No. 4-ranked team in the preseason NCAA Division II East Region writers' poll, was playing its season-opening game for 2018 on the cloudy, 70-degree night in northern Florida. Embry-Riddle, a longtime NAIA power, is in its first year as a full member of NCAA Division II.
Senior pitcher/designated hitter Jason Polgano (Bronx, N.Y.) went 2 for 4 with a two-run home run for Felician. The left-handed Polgano started the game on the mound for the Golden Falcons and took a hard-luck loss, giving up two runs over three innings
Felician jumped out on top in the first inning when junior Danny Healey Jr. (Brookhaven, Pa.) singled with one out, stole second base, and scored on a two-out single by Matt Diesel (Massapequa Park, N.Y.). But ERAU (3-2) used two-out magic to take the lead in the home half of the first. Polgano retired the first two hitters but then issued a hit batsman. Luis Olivier (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) tripled off the base of the left field fence to tie the score, and the Eagles went ahead when Zach Howard's (Land'o'Lakes, Fla.) pop-up was misread and fell in for a hit.
The 2-1 score held until the seventh frame. The Golden Falcons never again reached ERAU starter Matthew Russell (Jacksonville, Fla.) (1-0), who yielded four hits, struck out eight batters and walked one over six innings. Polgano, meanwhile, struck out the side in the second inning and worked out of a jam in the third before giving way to junior Will Kazura (Saddle Brook, N.J.), who gave up one hit over 2 2/3 stanzas.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, the Eagles loaded the bases without a hit. Felician went back to its bullpen, but Howard answered with a grand slam home run to left-center field on a 1-and-0 pitch to break the game open. The blow loomed even larger when Polgano went deep in the top of the eighth to pull the visitors to within 6-3.
In the ninth, Felician pinch-hitter Anthony Santoro (Freehold, N.J.) reached on a one-out error. Following a strikeout, leadoff man L.T. Struble (Hammonton, N.J.) doubled down the right field line to keep the Golden Falcons' hopes alive.
The Eagles summoned junior right-hander Dominic Jeancola (DeBary, Fla.), and on a 2-and-1 pitch, Healey sent a hard ground ball up the middle that seemed ticketed for center field. Jeancola, however, got his glove on the ball, slowing it down enough for shortstop Jake Malone (Maple Valley, Wash.) to range to his left and throw out Healey to end the game. Jeancola was credited with his second save of the season.
The Felician offense out-hit ERAU, 7-6, but struck out 13 times on the night. The Eagles survived committing four errors. Howard finished with five RBI, while Eagle first baseman Alex Dodd (Sacramento, Calif.) was 2 for 3 plus a walk.
The teams play a 1 p.m. doubleheader on Saturday in Daytona Beach, continuing their four-game weekend series. Saturday's second game is slated for seven innings in duration.