MANCHESTER, N.H. – Trailing by a run in the top of the ninth and looking to avoid a doubleheader sweep, the Merrimack baseball team responded with four runs to stun Saint Anselm, 9-6, in game two after dropping the opener, 6-1, as the Warriors split a Sunday doubleheader to take the weekend series against the Hawks at Sullivan Park.
Picking up a huge Northeast-10 Conference Divisional win in the process, the Warriors notched their 20th win of the season and improve to 20-14 overall. More importantly, the Navy and Gold move into a three-way tie for fourth place in the Northeast Division; only the top-four teams in each division qualify for the postseason, and with nine divisional games to go, every contest will count as the Warriors enter the home stretch of the season.
"It was awesome to take game two today," head coach Jim Martin noted afterward. "Our guys battled all around, from the pitchers to the hitters to the defense, we did what it took to win. I'm proud of my guys for hanging in there and competing until the end, and it was great to get the series win. We had many two-strike hits and RBIs in the later innings, so it was great to see our resilience pay off."
Saint Anselm (16-23-1, 11-12 NE Division) pounded out 11 hits and used a five-run seventh to down the Warriors, 6-5, in game one Sunday.
After the Warriors tied the contest with a run in the top of the seventh, the host Hawks promptly turned in a big inning at the plate, totaling six hits and benefitting from two Merrimack errors to take a five-run lead they would never relinquish.
Merrimack mustered a mere three hits in the opener, as freshman Mike Forgione (North Branford, Conn.) added one from the No. 2 spot and classmate Frank Crinella (Springfield, Mass.) tacked on two more from the cleanup spot.
Sophomore righty Joe Carnevale (East Providence, R.I.) fell to 4-2 on the year after surrendering four runs – three earned – and left the game with runners on and one out in the bottom of the seventh. Reliever Tim Cashman (Rowley, Mass.) yielded two more runs before junior Tyler Cuming (Red Bank, N.J.) closed out the final 1 1/3 frames.
Hawks starter Zachary Brown tossed a complete game gem to pick up the win, going the distance and limiting the Warriors to one unearned run on three this to improve to 3-1 on the season. Eight different Saint Anselm batters, meanwhile, finished with a hit, as Richie Manzi, Robert Kelly and Kyle Grumoli each boasted two-hit performances in game one.
Down by a run from the fourth inning on, Merrimack finally tied it up after sophomore John Pastyrnak (Bristol, Conn.) reached on an error that allowed senior Joe Mantoni (Northbridge, Mass.) to score in the top of the seventh. But the Hawks promptly answered, as Carnevale found himself in a jam before giving way to Cashman with the bases loaded.
The sophomore transfer did not fare much better, allowing four singles and a fielder's choice that eventually led to five Saint A's runs crossing before the frame came to an end. Merrimack managed just one more base runner the rest of the way en route to the eventual setback in game one.
Trailing by a run in the top of the ninth, Merrimack mounted a furious rally that saw four runs come in on five hits, as the Warriors stunned Saint A's with a 9-6 victory in the nightcap, closing out the Sunday doubleheader split.
Trailing by three (4-1) entering the eighth inning, the Warrior offense came alive, first with four runs in the top of the eighth that put the visitors momentarily ahead, 5-4, before the Hawks responded with two runs in the bottom of the eighth to wrestle the lead right back.
But down, 6-5, in the ninth, the Navy and Gold buckled down and kept the offensive outburst going, as senior Mark O'Flynn (Ipswich, Mass.) tied the contest on an RBI single to right to score classmate Casey Cotter (North Hampton, N.H.). Then, facing a new pitcher and with runners on the corners, Crinella connected with one of the biggest hits of his young career, singling to left to bring home Forgione while giving the visitors a lead they would never relinquish in the process.
Merrimack capped off the inning with another two runs scoring on an RBI fielder's choice and a throwing error, but those proved to be unnecessary as senior Beau Batchelor (Peabody, Mass.) locked up his first save of the season by tossing a 1-2-3 ninth.
After stringing together just three hits in game one, Merrimack's bats exploded for 14 hits in the late game, with 10 of them (and eight of the nine runs) coming in the eighth and ninth innings combined. Cotter capped off another huge week with a monstrous 5-for-5 showing at the dish, scoring three runs and driving in another from his newly-anointed leadoff spot in the lineup. Forgione, Crinella and Pastyrnak added two hits apiece, while Crinella drove in a team-best two runs, as well.
After sophomore Junior Vasquez (Lawrence, Mass.) surrendered four runs on eight hits over 5 1/3, senior Brian Wolfendale (Methuen, Mass.) acted as a stopgap with an inning and two thirds of scoreless relief. Mantoni wound up as the winning pitcher despite allowing the Hawks to retake the lead in the bottom of the eighth, while Batchelor earned the save.
Saint A's reliever Jamies Farrington spoiled a strong start from Tom Hudon, who went seven innings while allowing a run on four hits and fanning seven. Paul Trabucco was also tagged for a run in the ninth after being called upon to get the final two outs during the Warriors' rally.
Merrimack fell behind early after Kelly and Mike Haydeon drove in a run each in the bottom of the first, giving the home side a 2-0 lead after an inning of play. Merrimack would slice the lead in half after Cotter blasted the game's only home run – a solo shot – in the top of the third, but the Hawks tacked on insurance runs in the fourth and in the sixth to go up, 4-1, after six innings.
Then in the eighth, the Warrior bats came alive, first with Crinella singling in a run before Forgione came in at the tail end of a 6-4-3 double play. But Pastyrnak and junior Eddie Newton (North Billerica, Mass.) did not let the twin killing deflate the visitors, instead coming through with back-to-back RBI singles to give the Warriors the lead, 5-4.
But Saint A's immediately got the runs back in the bottom of the eighth, as Mantoni allowed a walk before back-to-back errors tied the game and a passed ball moved the hosts in front, 6-5.
Again, though, the Warriors were not deterred, as Cotter started the rally with a one-out single, and the offense snowballed from there, as the late rally keyed the Warriors to a huge series victory over the Hawks.
Merrimack returns to action Wednesday, April 24, with a huge makeup doubleheader at UMass Lowell. First pitch is slated for 3:30 p.m.