WEST HAVEN, Conn. – Needing a victory in the early game to stay alive in the four-team, double-elimination Northeast-10 Championships, the Merrimack baseball team lived to play another game, edging Northeast Division rival Bentley, 3-2, in a Friday morning elimination game at Frank Vieira Field in West Haven, Conn.
By virtue of the win, the Warriors (28-18) will face the loser of New Haven and Le Moyne's Friday afternoon tilt in another elimination game slated to begin at approximately 4 p.m. After falling in extra innings in Thursday's second round action, Bentley (27-22) sees its tournament hopes end after the loss Friday and will await a potential NCAA at-large bid on Sunday night.
Leading by just one run in the top of the seventh, Merrimack tacked on a huge insurance run by means of a two-out RBI single off the bat of freshman Pat Florence (Lowell, Mass.) to take a two-run lead. That tally proved to be the difference after Bentley rallied with a run in the seventh but could not drive in the tying run with the bases loaded.
Sophomore Joe Carnevale (East Providence, R.I.) came away victorious to improve to 6-3 on the year, after going six strong while allowing one run on four hits while striking out five and walking two. It was enough to best all-conference second team member Jeff Croteau, who fell to 7-5 after yielding three runs – one earned – on seven hits over eight innings.
Entering the contest in a precarious, bases-loaded, two-out situation in the bottom of the seventh, second-team all conference honoree and senior two-way player Joe Mantoni (Northbridge, Mass.) blew three pitches by the first batter he faced for an inning-ending strikeout, and cruised over the remaining two innings to lock up his seventh save of the season. The right-hander struck out three over his 2 1/3 innings of work, needing 23 pitches to get through the seven batters he saw.
Merrimack's offense, meanwhile, was led by a trio of freshmen: rookie Mike Forgione (North Branford, Conn.) drove in Merrimack's first run of the game and saw another score after an error during that sequence, while classmate Sean O'Neill (Norwood, Mass.) finished with a team-best two hits. Finally, Florence provided the game-winning RBI in the seventh, as his two-out single drove in the game-deciding third run.
Bentley saw leadoff man Sean Keady finish 2-for-4 and tallied a run, while No. 3 hitter Logan Gillis went 1-for-3 with an RBI. In total, the Warriors outhit Bentley by an 8-6 margin and capitalized on three errors by the Falcons which led to a pair of unearned runs.
After two scoreless innings, Merrimack broke the deadlock with two in the top of the third. An error allowed Alan Pastyrnak Jr. (Bristol, Conn.) to get aboard before moving to second on a sacrifice and third on a groundout. After a walk put classmate Casey Cotter (North Hampton, N.H.) on and following a steal, Forgione came to the plate with two in scoring position. The rookie, batting in the No. 2 hole for the first time this season, came through with a run-scoring infield single to short before another came home on an errant throw, giving the Warriors the first two runs of the game after three at-bats.
Bentley responded with a run against Carnevale in the bottom of the frame. The Falcons put the first two batters on base with a single and hit by pitch before a sacrifice moved both into scoring position. Gillis managed to drive in Dante Padovani on a sacrifice fly, but that would be all Carnevale would give up, making it 2-1 after three innings of play.
Over the middle innings of the game, both Croteau and Carnevale settled into grooves; the Bentley all-conference second team honoree kept Merrimack relatively quiet through innings 4-6, while Carnevale was no slouch either, working in and out of jams with runners in scoring position, sending the contest into the seventh with Merrimack maintaining its one-run lead.
That was when the Warriors used some two-out magic to add a key insurance run. Pastyrnak started things off with an opposite-field single before O'Neill did likewise. With a runner in scoring position, Florence connected with one of his biggest hits of his young career, singling to center to score Pastyrnak and make it a 3-1 ballgame.
But with Carnevale out of the game, Bentley got to senior Beau Batchelor (Peabody, Mass.) with a one-out single, walk and single to load the bases. After yielding a sacrifice fly to cut the lead to one (3-2), Batchelor yielded another walk, prompting Mantoni's entrance from the bullpen. The two-way power hitter promptly tossed three strikes to get out of the jam, but not before the Falcons clawed to within one entering the eighth.
Both sides proceeded to put base runners on in the eighth but to no avail, and after Merrimack loaded the bases against Bentley reliever Lamarre Rey, the right-hander dodged trouble to send the Falcons to bat in the bottom of the ninth. But like he did in the eighth, Mantoni would hardly break a sweat, setting down the Falcons in order to clinch the win for the Warriors.
Merrimack will look to stave off elimination and earn a spot in the NE-10 Championship Finals with a win later this afternoon. The Warriors will take on the loser of New Haven-Le Moyne at approximately 4 p.m. at Frank Vieira Field.