NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. – With two outs and nobody on in the bottom of the ninth, the Merrimack baseball team strung together a two-out hit and a subsequent walk to put the winning run in scoring position, and on a 1-1 count, senior Mark O'Flynn (Ipswich, Mass.) lined a hard hit ball to right; the Franklin Pierce outfielder made a valiant diving effort, but the ball popped out on the attempt, allowing senior Casey Cotter (North Hampton, N.H.) to score from second and seal a 3-2, walk-off victory in game two, as the Warriors posted a historic Sunday sweep over the 20th-ranked Ravens to take the Northeast-10 Conference Divisional weekend series after a 7-3 win earlier in the day.
Snapping an 11-game losing streak dating back to April 11, 2009, against the Ravens, Merrimack dramatically improved to 23-16 on the year and, more importantly, rose to 9-8 in Northeast Division play. With four games to go, Merrimack sits one game ahead of UMass Lowell and Stonehill for fourth place in the division. It also marked the first time in program history that the Warriors had ever won two games in a season against Franklin Pierce, who fell to 28-15 with an 11-6 mark in the division.
Merrimack's offense pounded out seven runs on 12 hits, and senior Beau Batchelor (Peabody, Mass.) followed up sophomore Junior Vasquez (Lawrence, Mass.) with effective relief work to limit the Franklin Pierce bats and help the Warriors take game one, 7-3, Sunday afternoon.
With seven different players tallying at least one hit for the hosts, Merrimack hopped out to a 5-1 lead against previously-unbeaten starter Kevin McGowan, who lasted just 4 1/3 innings while surrendering five earned runs on eight hits.
From there, the Ravens would claw to as close as three (5-2) with a run in the top of the seventh, but the Warrior bats responded with two more insurance runs to pull away late and snap an 11-game losing streak against Franklin Pierce that had lasted over four years.
Junior Eddie Newton (North Billerica, Mass.) and sophomore Dionys Quezada (Lawrence, Mass.) each drilled three hits apiece for the Warriors; the former tallied his 100th career hit on Sunday, as well, while the latter drove home a team-best three runs. Cotter continued his season-long tear with a 2-for-4 showing and a run scored, while freshman Frank Crinella (Springfield, Mass.)drove in a pair for the home side, as well.
Batchelor picked up the win in relief to improve to 3-1 on the year, tossing 2 1/3 effective innings while striking out two. Despite failing to go the minimum amount as the starter, Vasquez was effective over 4 2/3 frames, striking out four while limiting the FPU offense to just an unearned run on two hits. Senior Joe Mantoni (Northbridge, Mass.) also tossed the final two innings for the Warriors.
In a game that it never trailed in, Merrimack hopped in front on an RBI single in the bottom of the second off the bat of Quezada to score Newton. Then after an unearned run tied the contest in the top of the third, the Warriors struck right back; Crinella gave Merrimack a one-run lead on a sacrifice fly before Mantoni lined a single to center to score O'Flynn, pushing the hosts in front, 3-1, after three.
An inning later, freshman Bobby Losanno (Peabody, Mass.) joined the party with a run-scoring double down the right field line. Crinella then continued the positive offensive impact from the underclassmen's bats with an RBI single to left, running up the Warriors' lead to 5-1 after four innings.
A wild pitch brought Franklin Pierce to within three (5-2) in the top of the seventh, but Quezada eased those late-game doubts with a two-RBI single in the bottom of the frame. The Ravens would get to Mantoni for one more run in the eighth but that would be it, as the Warriors outslugged the visitors to the tune of a four-run victory in game one.
In one of the most entertaining games of the year, an early pitchers' duel later became a one-run thriller down the stretch, as Merrimack used a pair of two-out hits in the bottom of the ninth to post a walk-off and series-clinching victory over the Ravens to wrap up the Sunday sweep.
After its 2-1 lead evaporated in the top of the eighth, Merrimack came to bat in the ninth looking to untie the contest for good. With two away, Cotter lined a hard single to right before Quezada pinch hit in the No. 2 hole and drew a walk.
With runners at first and second, O'Flynn ripped a frozen rope to right that was nearly caught by the right fielder; but instead, the ball popped out of the glove on the dive attempt, and Cotter sped all the way home to send the Warriors off in walk-off fashion.
Junior Alek Morency (Nashua, N.H.) wound up with the no decision after striking out seven and yielding six hits and an earned run over seven innings, while Mantoni picked up the win (3-0) after tossing the final 1 2/3 innings. Reliever Ryan Leach was stellar for the Ravens, entering the game in the fourth and pitching 5 2/3 strong innings before allowing the eventual two-out hits in the bottom of the ninth that gave the Warriors the victory.
Both sides finished the late game with seven hits apiece, while Cotter and freshman Mike Forgione (North Branford, Conn.) each added two hits to lead the home side. The latter drove in the temporary go-ahead run in the bottom of the sixth to give the Warriors a 2-1 lead after Losanno had scored the game's first run on a failed pickoff attempt in the fifth.
Trailing by a run in the eighth, Franklin Pierce tied the match on Matt Walsh's RBI single which brought home Zach Mathieu, who led the visitors with two hits and two runs in the late game. That tie would hold until Merrimack's heroics in the bottom of the ninth.
With four games to go in the regular season, Merrimack will visit Bentley Tuesday (April 30) for an afternoon showdown starting at 3:30 p.m.
After splitting the first two games of the year with the Falcons, the Warriors will be aiming for a huge series win heading into the final weekend of play against Stonehill May 3-5.