RINDGE, N.H. - - Down five runs after the first inning the Wilmington University baseball team stormed back and defeated St. Thomas Aquinas, 11-9, to claim its first ever NCAA Division II East Regional Tournament Championship on Sunday night, earning a trip to the NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals.
The Wildcats (37-13) defeated each of the past two East Regional Champs on Sunday to claim their first ever regional championship. The Regional Championship is also the first for any team in the Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference for the sport of baseball, joining the 2004 Caldwell College Softball team, the 2010 Bloomfield College men's basketball team, multiple Concordia Clippers men's tennis team, and multiple Wilmington University golf team.
With the win, the Wildcats advance to the 2015 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals starting on Saturday, May 23 in Cary, N.C. The tournament will be played at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in its entirety.
The Championship game didn't start off on the right foot for the Wildcats, as they spotted St. Thomas Aquinas (30-19-1) a five-run lead after the first inning. But the resilient Wildcats battled right back, scoring six runs in the top of the second to erase the deficit and take the lead.
Matt Lopes started the comeback with an RBI double to right center before Christian Adorno singled in Lopes two batters later. Now with the bases loaded, Frank Samluk singled through the left side to score two more runs, with the third coming home on a throwing error that reached the STAC dugout. Jon Castro finished off the six-run inning with a single through the right side, scoring Samluk from third.
The Spartans fought back with a run in the bottom of the second inning to tie the game, but the Wildcats bounced right back to retake the lead in the top of the third. It would be a lead they would never relinquish. Lopes started the inning with a doubled to left center before moving to third on a single from Sean Feeney. Lopes came home on an RBI fielder's choice by Adorno, giving the Wildcats the 7-6 lead.
The offense added on with two runs each in the top of the seventh and eighth innings with RBI's coming from Adorno and Kyle Fries in the seventh and Lopes in the eighth. Sam Goines also scored a run on a wild pitch in the eighth.
The ball once again found its way into the arm of closer Tyler Fries, as he came on in the seventh inning with one out and two runners on base. Fries wiggled out of the bases loaded jam with only one run in the seventh before setting the Spartans down in order in the eighth.
The ninth inning was hairier for Fries, as he gave up a walk and back-to-back doubles as the Spartans cut the deficit to 11-9. Fries then induced a foul out to the catcher for the second out of the inning before striking out the final batter.
Zach Rumford earned the win in relief, pitching 2.1 inning while striking out a pair and only allowing three hits. He improved to 2-1 on the season, pitching the bottom of the second before the Wildcats took the lead for good in the top of the third. Fries earned his fourth save of the East Regional Tournament, picking up his 14th of the season.
For their efforts over the weekend, Josh Swirchak, Feeney, and Fries were named to the All-Tournament Team. Fries was named the Most Outstanding Player in securing all four victories.
Although this will be the first NCAA Division II National Finals appearance for the Wildcats, the team made appearances in the NAIA National Championship 1984, 1992, 1994, and 1995.
The 2015 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals begin on Saturday, May 23 with the Wildcats squaring up against Catawba at 7 p.m. Catawba won the Southeast Regional Tournament Championship.