UNION, N.J. – Shenandoah (Va.) University freshman starting pitcher Carson Kulina threw a complete game, leading the Hornets to a 7-1 win over Westfield State University in an elimination game in the NCAA Division III Baseball Regional at Jim Hynes Field at Kean University on Saturday afternoon.
Westfield is eliminated from the tournament (with a 1-2 mark in the tourney) and finishes the season with a 28-16 overall record. The Owls were making their 11th overall NCAA Tournament appearance and their second straight.
“We just ran into a couple of really good baseball clubs today,” said Westfield State head coach Nathan Bashaw. “We’ve been kind of running on fumes the last couple of weeks with some injuries but, we didn’t do enough today to come out on top.”
Westfield will lose nine seniors to graduation, which includes record setters in Gegetskas, Anthony Crowley and Strachan, along with all-conference shortstop Dunn, starting infielders Tyler Beach and Aaron Clancy, and contributors Jared Ferrari, Alex Benevides and Jamie Butler.
“This group has been phenomenal for the program, said Bashaw. “Each year they have taken a step forward and really left the program better than they found it. They won three conference championships, two conference tournaments, two NCAA tournaments and this year being a game away from a regional championship game, I can’t say enough about that group.”
With the win, Shenandoah (33-13) advances to tomorrow’s championship round, and will play host Kean (NJ) University, which advanced with a 2-0 record. Shenandoah would need to sweep a doubleheader from Kean to win the regional title and advance to the super-regional. Kean would merely need to win one game to win the title and advance.
Shenandoah scored the first run of the game in the top of the fourth inning, getting a 2-out double deep into the right field corner from Grant Thompson, who scored when Matt Moon followed with a single to right center.
Westfield cut down a potential run at the plate to end the top of the fifth, when Tristan Baker singled to centerfield, but Owls’ centerfielder Michael Cruz charged the ball and played it on one hop, firing a strike to catcher Jake Gibb who blocked the plate and slapped the tag on Robert Marcelle who was trying to score from second on the play.
Kulina tossed 5.2 no-hit innings at the Owls before Cruz finally took the lid off with a base hit through the right side, and then stole second. Cruz was facing his former team, as the Springfield, Mass., native transferred to Westfield after initially starting his college career at Shenandoah. Kulina fanned Owls’ leadoff hitter Ethan Day to end the threat in the sixth.
The Hornets added a second run on a squeeze bunt play in the seventh inning, as Henry Delavergne’s sacrifice scored Grant Thompson. Thompson had reached on a dropped strike three, and stolen second. Westfield was forced to pull starting catcher Jake Gibb, who had been nursing injuries throughout the tournament, and when sophomore backstop Bryant Dana entered mid at-bat, Delavergne promptly laid down a textbook squeeze bunt.
Keegan Woolford launched a 2-run line-drive home run high over the 375-foot marker in right center field to extend the lead to 4-0 in the top of the eighth.
Kulina improved to 6-0 on the season with the win. Moon finished with three hits and Marcelle and Baker each recorded a pair of hits for the Hornets.
Westfield State freshman starting pitcher Alex Honey (6-1) took his first loss of the season. He worked effectively through the seventh inning, allowing two runs on six hits. He stuck out six and walked just two before departing in favor of lefty reliever Scott Strachan.
“Honey really battles,” said Bashaw. “He’s a kid we started off in the 4/5 role and established himself as our third starter the last few weeks. He throws strikes, has been aggressive in the zone, and as a freshman we think the future is pretty bright there.”
“What an outstanding pitching battle between two good lefties … I can’t say enough good things about (Alex) Honey, and they just keep coming at you,” said Shenandoah head coach Kevin Anderson in the post-game press conference.”
Strachan made his 23rd appearance of the season, and 55th of his career, extending his own school record in both categories.
“He’s been great, he’s really been a phenomenal weapon out of the bullpen for us the last four years,” said Bashaw. “He’s been a mainstay in our bullpen and we feel really confident with him out there.”
Westfield finally got on the board with a single run in the ninth as Kulina finally showed some cracks, and the Owls pushed across a run as with two-out, Colin Dunn walked and Aaron Clancy singled, then Westfield sent senior pitcher John Gegetskas to the plate. Gegetskas, who was an outstanding high school power hitter, walked in what would be his first, and last collegiate at bat to load the bases, then Dana singled through the left side to score Dunn.
Dana finished with a pair of hits for the Owls, double his season total entering the game. Clancy also finished with a pair of hits, including a double.
“We’re in a good spot,” said Bashaw when asked about the future. “Every year we have taken a step forward. It’s going to be a lot of heavy lifting for the young guys next year , and a lot of things to improve on, but the more you can get exposed to these good, high end college baseball teams the better off it’s going to serve our program down the road.” – Courtesy of Westfield State University