Bridgeport, CT – Conor McEvoy's (Watertown, CT) three-run double in the seventh inning proved to be the decisive swing in the Pioneers 11-9 triumph over first-place Monmouth Saturday afternoon at the Ballpark at Harbor Yard. Sacred Heart twice came back from at least three runs down, rallying past the Hawks to secure a berth in the 2012 Northeast Conference Tournament. The defending NEC Champions will return to the site in which they won last year's crown, Dodd Stadium, next weekend as they search for back-to-back titles.
Monmouth (33-22, 21-11 NEC) took advantage of three SHU errors in the top of the first inning to push across a trio of runs. Kody Kerski (Waterbury, CT) was able to limit the damage after Chris Perret lined into a double play and Eddie Martin popped out to end the frame. Jake Gronsky had the big knock for the Hawks with a double that plated two runs.
Sacred Heart (22-30, 19-13 NEC) immediately responded in the bottom half of the first, hanging up four runs to jump ahead, 4-3. The top three of the Pioneer lineup all found their way on base to set the table for the middle of the order. Hunter Phillips (Monroe, CT) evened the score on one swing with a three-run bases clearing double. Troy Scribner (Washington Depot, CT) recorded a two-out RBI single to make it 4-3.
The Hawks put together another big inning in the fifth as Dan Avella, Jamie Rosenkranz, and Perret notched three straight RBI hits to give the visitors a 7-4 advantage. Jeff Stoddard (Branford, CT) came into close the door for SHU and got some help from his catcher, Rocco Gondek (Glastonbury, CT). Gondek picked off Perret at second base and Stoddard struck out Kyle Perry to end the inning.
The Pioneers again answered the Hawks challenge and struck for three runs in the bottom half of the fifth. Keaton Flint (Charlton, NY) leadoff with a double down the left field line and Billy McDonough (Millwood, NY) followed with a single through the left side. John Murphy (Seymour, CT) kept the hit parade rolling with a RBI single that cut the deficit to 7-5. Dan Perez (Seymour, CT) roped a RBI double to make it 7-6 and Phillips tied the game with a RBI fielder's choice.
Chris Dionisio (Smithtown, NY), who would go onto pick up the win for the Pioneers, entered the game in a tough spot. The senior reliever took the mound with the bases loaded and no outs in the top of the seventh. Dionisio got the first batter he faced to pop out but Monmouth pushed across two runs following a walk and a bloop single. However, Dionisio kept the score at 9-7 by getting Steve Wilgus to fly out to shallow center and striking out Josh Boyd.
Sacred Heart continued to follow the pattern of the day by scoring runs in the same inning as the Hawks. Murphy, Perez, and Phillips all worked one-out walks to load the bases and chase MU pitcher Adam Yunginger from the game. McEvoy hammered the first pitch he saw from reliever TJ Hunt into left center field to clear the bases and push the Pioneers in front, 10-9.
Perez provided an insurance run in the eighth with a RBI single that allowed Dave Boisture (Highland Mills, NY) to scamper home. Dionisio worked perfect 1-2-3 innings in the eighth and ninth to end the game and secure the Pioneers place in the 2012 Northeast Conference Tournament.
The seeding and schedule is still to be determined but Sacred Heart will have the opportunity to defend its 2011 NEC title next weekend in Norwich, CT. The 2012 NEC Tournament will include the conference's top-four teams in a double elimination bracket. The tournament begins Thursday, May 17, please check www.NortheastConference.org for a complete schedule as well as ticket information.