HOOKSETT — To a man, everyone in the Southern New Hampshire University dugout agreed that the top-seeded Penman couldn’t have asked for a better start in the NCAA Division II Baseball Championship East Regional Tournament.
Franklin’s Derrick Sylvester set the tone, striking out the first three batters, and the SNHU bats surged out of the gate with a seven-run first inning on route to a 9-3 victory over No. 6 Felician College on Thursday to lead off the double-elimination tournament.
Sylvester, a senior, gave up three runs (two earned) on seven hits, with eight strikeouts, over seven innings. He improved his record to 9-2 on the season, and, in the process, earned his 20th career win, breaking the SNHU record of 19 set by Marc Perec from 1996-99.
“There’s no better start to a game than that,” said Sylvester. “I mean, I was able to go out, get some swings on some good pitches, and then the offense came out firing on all cylinders. After that, it took a lot of pressure off and allowed me to settle in and throw strikes. At that point, when you’re up, 7-0, you don’t have to do too much, you can just kind of let your defense work for you.”
SNHU (40-12) plays next Friday at 1 p.m., against the loser of Thursday night’s nightcap between third-seeded Wilmington and No. 4 seed St. Thomas Aquinas College. Felician plays in an elimination game today at 10 a.m. against Franklin Pierce, which fell 3-0 to Dowling later Thursday afternoon. Dowling will play today at 4 p.m. against the winner of the Wilmington-St. Thomas game.
Senior outfielder Al Stanton sparked the SNHU offense, driving a two-run homer over the left-centerfield wall to plate Manny Cruz in the first inning.
“I’m just happy to be the catalyst and get things started,” said Stanton. “It was obviously a huge game for us and ... usually we start slow, so it was kind of a nice change for us to get going early and get Sly comfortable.”
The early onslaught continued when shortstop Michael Mastroberti doubled and Alejandro Dias singled him home with a gap shot to left field. Dias stole second and advanced to third when Tyler Fortanascio reached on an error. Bryan Toland pushed both runners across the plate with a double, and then back-to-back base hits by Anthony Aceto and Brandon O’Brien resulted in two more runs.
“Sylvester really threw the ball well today” said SNHU manager Scott Loiseau. “He competed for seven innings, threw a lot of pitches (124) ... he didn’t have his best stuff today, but he really set the tone for us early with those three strikeouts.
“And the (hitters), you know, I think we scored five runs with two outs in the first inning there,” said Loiseau. “One guy after another just coming up and coming through big. It just loosens everyone up when you’re playing with a seven-run lead in the first inning. In a tournament, it definitely helps everyone, coaches included.”
After a scoreless second and third, Felician managed to muster some offense in the fourth inning, loading the bases behind two one-out singles and a walk before Jordan Tackett hit a deep sacrifice fly to right field to score Joe Petosa.
The Golden Falcons (29-19) notched two more runs in the fifth inning. Gabriel Fellin singled with one out and Aaron Brill reached after being hit by a pitch. Both advanced on a passed ball before Fellin scored on a Scott De Jong fly out, and Brill came home on a Petosa single.
The Penmen provided themselves some breathing room in the bottom of the seventh inning when junior catcher Fortanascio led off with a single, followed by a double from Toland. The runners advanced on a passed ball and then O’Brien drove both to the plate on a single to extend the lead to 9-3.
Including his four-RBI performance Thursday, O’Brien has reached the 70-hit, 50-stolen base benchmark for the season, said his coach.
“Those two runs were huge,” said Loiseau. “As an offense, a four-run lead and a six-run lead is a big difference. You know, with a four-run lead, one swing can tie the game, so that hit put a lot of pressure on them.”
Junior Sam Fuller struck out two while pitching a scoreless eighth for SNHU. Sophomore Joe McCarthy capped the victory, forcing three-straight groundouts in the ninth.Dowling 3, Franklin Pierce 0: Dowling’s Tyler Badamo threw a five-hitter while striking out eight. He did not issue a walk.
Dowling’s Daniel Parisi provided the bulk of the victors’ offense with a two-run home to left field in the third inning.
Matthew O’Herron had a double and a single for FPU (35-17). Dowling improved to 34-15.