HOOKSETT — Zach Mathieu just knew his roommate, pitcher Ryan Leach, was going to bring his best stuff to Penmen Field.
"He didn't really say anything to me, but I just knew he was going to be ready," said Derry's Mathieu of Leach, whose three-hitter in six-plus innings of relief carried Franklin Pierce University to a 5-1 victory over top-seeded Wilmington (Del.) on Sunday for the 2013 NCAA Division II Baseball East Regional championship on the campus of Southern New Hampshire University.
It marks the sixth time under head coach Jayson King that the Ravens are heading to the Division II World Series, set to start Saturday in Cary, N.C.
"It never gets old for me, but it gives me greater satisfaction knowing this group is going to a world series," said King. "This is a tight group that worked hard to get here and I'm happy for them."
Mathieu said just thinking about last season was all the motivation he and his teammates needed entering Sunday's game.
"We lost to Le Moyne in the semifinals and getting bounced earlier than we expected just didn't feel good," said Mathieu. "We thought about that feeling when we started this season back in October, getting up at six o'clock in the morning for our lifting and workouts. We came back here determined to be last team standing."
Leach was the starting and losing pitcher last year against Le Moyne. "I lasted about five innings and it was just frustrating leaving the field that day knowing our season was over," said Leach.
But in the third inning of a scoreless game on Sunday, King summoned Leach to the hill and the junior righty from Farmington, Maine, made the most of his second chance. It didn't start out smoothly for Leach, who allowed a two-out single and then hit the next two batters to load the bases. But Leach got Matt Lopes to ground out to end the threat and find his rhythm.
He allowed a one-out double in the fourth inning and then retired nine straight batters before yielding a one-out single in the seventh inning. An infield error eventually led to an unearned run, but the Ravens still had a 4-1 lead with two innings to go.
Leach hit his third batter of the game with one out in the eighth inning, but got an inning-ending double play.
When he walked the lead-off hitter in the ninth inning, King decided to bring in closer Joe Flynn.
"I didn't have much left in the tank," said Leach, who ended up throwing 86 pitches on one day's rest. "I was happy with my location and compared to last year in that game against Le Moyne, everything was so much different for me. I was so much comfortable and having the experience of pitching here in the regionals last year was a plus."
Flynn slammed the door on Wilmington, getting a game-ending strikeout call that set off a team celebration in front of the mound.
Wilmington (43-14) was coming off a dramatic 2-1, 10-inning win earlier in the day against Southern New Hampshire. Al Stanton gave SNHU life with his game-tying solo homer in the top of the ninth inning, only to see Josh Hampton match it with his walk-off homer in the 10th frame.
"We were on a high, beating Southern New Hampshire and entering the championship game (against Franklin Pierce)," said Wilmington head coach Brian August. "I said coming into this tournament that Franklin Pierce was the team to beat and I felt we were right behind them. We beat Pierce four times this season, so our confidence was high. But I also knew we couldn't beat them today scoring just one run. We had chances today, especially early on with the bases loaded and we couldn't get the big hit. We also hurt ourselves with three errors and they capitalized like good teams always do in that situation."
Franklin Pierce scored two runs in the fourth inning. Dan Kemp doubled and went to third on a single by Mathieu. After an infield error loaded the bases, Matt singled home Kemp. Mathieu ended up scoring the second run when Marty Dunlap bounced into a fielders' choice.
"When you're ahead in the game, you can take more chances," said King. "Leach was pitching well, but weren't going to sit on a two-run lead."
In the sixth inning John Razzino singled to center and bolted to third when Matt O'Herron singled to right. On a steal attempt of second, O'Herron forced a errant throw from the pitcher to second base, allowing Razzino to scamper home for a 3-0 lead. Moments later, Justin Brock tripled in the gap to left center, giving the Ravens a four-run cushion.
In the eighth inning Ryan Boswell scored an insurance run off a sacrifice bunt.
"Our team had faith in the coaching staff and we had faith in them," said King, who got doused with a Gatorade bucket that set off another celebration in left field following the awards ceremony.
"This is family, you know, 40 brothers playing together, each doing their job," said Mathieu. "We're going to enjoy this, but we still have one more goal ahead of us and that's winning it all."
Under King, Franklin Pierce (36-17) has won five NCAA regional titles over the last eight seasons and has won at least 31 games a season since 2002.