Baseball Comeback Again Thwarted By Embry-Riddle Walkoff Home Run

Left-handed baseball swing
Matt Diesel went 8 for 18 in Felician's 2018 season-opening four-game series at Embry-Riddle. (Dave Schofield)

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University hit a pair of ninth-inning home runs to earn a 9-7 non-conference baseball victory over visiting Felician University on Sunday afternoon at Sliwa Stadium. The win gave Embry-Riddle (6-2) a sweep of the teams' four-game weekend series.

For the second consecutive contest, Felician (0-4) staged a comeback in its final at-bat, only to be done in by an Eagle walk-off homer. The Golden Falcons are ranked No. 4 in the preseason NCAA Division II East Region writers' poll.

The Eagles took the lead for the first time in the game by plating a pair of runs off of the Felician bullpen in the bottom of the seventh inning. With the bases loaded and one out, ERAU sophomore Luis Olivier (Altamonte Springs, Fla.) tied the game with a sacrifice fly. Junior Zach Howard (Land'o'Lakes, Fla.) followed by grounding a single through the left side for a 6-5 ERAU advantage.

After a scoreless eighth frame, Felician junior L.T. Struble (Hammonton, N.J.) drew a leadoff walk in the ninth and moved up a base on a single by Danny Healey Jr. (Brookhaven, Pa.). Matt Diesel (Massapequa Park, N.Y.) hit a fielder's choice grounder to retire Healey, but Struble scored the tying run when the relay throw to first base was wild. Diesel advanced to second on the play, and was brought home on a two-out single to left by junior Jason Aponte (Loxahatchee, Fla.).

Struble had come in to pitch from his shortstop position to escape a two-on, two-out jam in the bottom of the eighth. But Eagle junior second baseman Kyle Marsh (Port Orange, Fla.) began the ninth by belting a 1-and-0 Struble offering over the left field fence a few feet inside the foul pole. With the game tied, Olivier reached on an error, and Howard ended the contest with another round-tripper, this one to straightaway center field.

ERAU outhit the Golden Falcons, 15-11. Howard was 3 for 5 with three RBI, and Alex Dodd (Sacramento, Calif.) went 3 for 5 with a double and triple for the Eagles. Felician senior Ron Sessa (Chester, N.J.) picked up a double among two hits.

The game lasted three hours, one minute. All four games in the series, including the seven-inning affair in Saturday's nightcap, cracked the three-hour mark.

For the fourth time in the weekend, Felician scored first. This time, senior first baseman Jason Polgano (Bronx, N.Y.) blasted a three-run home run with one out in first inning. ERAU collected a pair in the bottom of the first, but the Golden Falcons extended to a 5-2 edge with two runs in the fourth. Armando Ovalles (Union City, N.J.) scored on a wild pitch and Struble lofted a sacrifice fly.

Embry-Riddle senior Justin Franklin (DeBary, Fla.) hit a two run homer in the sixth to pull the hosts within 5-4 and set up the dramatics of the final three innings.

Freshman right-hander Michael Gutierrez (Garfield, N.J.) made his collegiate debut by starting the game on the mound for Felician, and worked six innings for a no-decision. He allowed four runs on nine hits with four strikeouts. Diesel went 2 for 5 and scored twice, and Healey and Sean Downey (Elizabeth, N.J.) also had two hits each.

Embry-Riddle hit 11 home runs in the four-game series, including four by Marsh.

Felician is off for 10 days before playing its first East Region opponent of the season. The Golden Falcons face Franklin Pierce University on Feb. 22 in Myrtle Beach, S.C.