HOOKSETT — There were two problems for the No. 17-ranked Southern New Hampshire University baseball team on Saturday. The Penmen dug themselves an early hole, and compounded it by not taking advantage of their opportunities.
Second-seeded SNHU fell behind, 4-0, during the first inning in a must-win Game 2 of the NCAA Division II East Super Regional, as fifth-seeded New York Institute of Technology chased Penmen starter Endy Morales in the first during a 6-3 triumph.
SNHU’s (40-15) run to become the first team in 11 years from the East Region to advance to back-to-back College World Series came to an end. The Penmen fell, 9-8, in Game 1 of the best-of-three series to NYIT on Friday.
The Bears (37-14) punched their ticket to their first-ever World Series on June 1-8 in Cary, N.C.
SNHU advanced to the Super Regional by defeating LIU Post twice during must-win games on May 18, but the Penmen had much bigger goals.
“It never feels good when you lose,” said Penmen coach Scott Loiseau. “When you are as emotionally invested and work as hard at something for as long as we do and we do not get the result that we want; it makes it tough.”
Leading the way in the Bears’ lineup were junior John LaRocca (3 for 4, three singles, two RBIs, run), redshirt freshman EJ Cumbo (2 for 4, home run, single, three RBIs, run) and junior Chris Campbell (2 for 4, double, single, two runs).
Junior Tom Blandini (Bow) went 2 for 5 with two singles and a run for the Penmen. The Bears led the hits category, 10-5, with most of SNHU’s base runners come by way of walks (10).
The Bears were looking to deliver the knock-out punch early, as Cumbo blasted a three-run shot over the fence in right-center with no outs in the first. A two-out, one-run single through the left side by junior Ryan Kuskowski gave the visitors a 4-0 lead.
NYIT appeared ready to blow the game open in the fourth, putting runners at the corners with no outs. Penmen junior relief pitcher Wesley Tobin (Portsmouth) was able to get out of the jam with only one run. LaRocca picked up an RBI single down the right-field line, giving his team a 5-0 lead, but Tobin retired the next three batters.
“All those relief pitchers have been great for us all year,” said Loiseau. “Endy has been great too. He made a big-time mistake in the first and gave them some momentum. They used it.”
The Penmen made some noise in the fifth, loading the bases with one out, and then scoring three runs with two down, pulling to within 5-3. Sophomore Dakota Mulcay (Goffstown) and redshirt senior Kevin Alexy drew RBI walks, while senior Joshua Zbierski recorded an RBI when he was hit by a pitch.
During the sixth, SNHU started leaving opportunities on the table, as redshirt junior Joshua Goldstein led off with a single. During the next at-bat, John Stanton rifled a sharply hit ground ball to short, but McNeill made a textbook snag en route to turning a double play.
Campbell led off the Bears’ portion of the sixth with a double, and then scored two batters later, on an RBI single by LaRocca.
In the seventh, SNHU put runners on first and second, but Bears freshman relief pitcher Joe Keller was able to get out of the jam with a double play and a strikeout. Keller earned the win in 4 1/3 innings, giving up only two hits and was not charged with a single run.
“NYIT did a good job of getting us to hit into some double plays,” said Loiseau. “They played better than us; they deserved to win.”