Baseball Is CACC Runner-Up After Pair Of Finals Losses

Felician-Wilmington baseball handshake
(Photo by Ellen O'Brien)

WATERBURY, Conn. – Felician University lost both games during the finals of the 2018 Central Atlantic Collegiate Conference Baseball Championship tournament to South Division No. 2 seed Wilmington (Del.) University on Sunday at Municipal Stadium. Felician was defeated, 2-0, in 10 innings in the day's first game, before suffering a 8-3 setback in the tournament's final contest to finish as the CACC's runner-up.

The event was hosted by Post University.

Felician, the CACC South's No. 1 seed, was seeking its third conference championship. Instead, the Golden Falcons finish second for the third time after having done so in 2006 (Dominican (N.Y.) College) and 2012 (Wilmington). Felician, which ended up 30-25 overall and 25-7 in league play, recorded its third consecutive 30+ win season and fourth overall. The Golden Falcons won the CACC South regular-season crown, their third consecutive conference or division regular-season title and fifth in program history.

"My hat is off to Wilmington for being the better team today," said 15th-year Felician head coach Chris Langan. "A lot was made of our winning our previous meetings this season against them. In those games we didn't hurt or beat ourselves. We weren't so lucky this time around. Their pitchers were tough and they made some plays in the outfield which kept us from mounting much."

Wilmington (34-19) was granted the CACC's automatic qualifier to the NCAA Division II East Regional Championship tournament. Later on Sunday, the Wildcats received the No. 7 seed in that event and a first-round match-up with No. 2 seed and No. 17 nationally-ranked St. Thomas Aquinas College.

After Felician won its May 5 play-in game and its first two contests in the main draw on Thursday and Friday to advance through the winners' bracket, Saturday's finals were rained out and moved to an 11 a.m. start on Mother's Day. Sunday arrived with colder temperatures and the Felician offense seemed to match, as it was unable to score for its first 16 innings of the day.

Felician was the designated home team for each game due to its higher seed. Both teams had a baserunner thrown out at home plate in the early-going of Game 1. Felician right-fielder Jason Aponte (Loxahatchee, Fla./Seminole Ridge) threw out Nick Grant (Houston, Del./Milford) coming around from second base on a second-inning single. The Wildcats returned the favor in the bottom of the fourth, as Aponte tried to score on what was ruled a triple for Danny Healey Jr. (Brookhaven, Pa./Monsignor Bonner) but was cut down on a relay by third-baseman Frank Nigro (Stony Point, N.Y./Don Bosco Prep).

Felician, however, was limited to five hits in the game, including four in eight innings off of Wildcat senior right-hander Chuck Delagol (Warminster, Pa./William Tennent). Felician junior lefty Jacob Nappi (Little Silver, N.J./Red Bank Regional) worked through five-plus frames, but was lifted after 84 pitches in a two-on, none-out jam in the sixth.

Freshman Kyle O'Neill (West Islip, N.Y./West Islip) entered, got the force at third base on a sacrifice attempt, and escaped the jam. He gave way to classmate Michael Gutierrez (Garfield, N.J./Garfield) with two outs in the seventh, and the teams traded zeroes into extra innings.

Wilmington turned to its closer, junior Justin Mears (Georgetown, Del./Sussex Central) for a perfect ninth. Christian Adorno (Millville, N.J./St. Augustine Prep) singled to start the 10th off of Gutierrez (4-5), and was sacrificed to second base. Following a groundout and an intentional walk, Brooks Ryan (Westminster, Md./Wintersmill) laced a 1-2 offering into the right-center field gap for a two-run triple.

Mears (1-1) worked around a leadoff single by Sean Downey (Elizabeth, N.J./Elizabeth) to retired the Golden Falcons in the home half of the 10th and force Game 2.

"I thought we played with too much emotion and didn't control the game," Langan said. "You know you are in for a battle each time you play Wilmington."

All eight runs the Golden Falcons allowed in the nightcap were unearned. Kendall Small (Dover, Del./Dover) opened the scoring in the third inning when he followed a Felician error with a two-out, two-run single off of junior Will Kazura (Saddle Brook, N.J./East Stroudsburg North [Pa.]) (4-3). The Wildcats then broke the game open off of the Felician bullpen in the sixth.

Wilmington loaded the bases with one out on an error, sacrifice, walk, stolen base, and intentional walk. Felician was on the verge of escaping when it nabbed a force at home plate on a slow comebacker. But Kyle Fries (Kennett Square, Pa./Unionville) drew a walk on a close 3-and-2 pitch, and Adorno laced a 3-and-1 offering to right-field for a three-run double. Adorno scored from second base on a bunt single by Max Carney (Wilmington, Del./Concord) to cap the rally.

Meanwhile Grant, after playing left field in Game 1, started on the mound for the Wildcats and carried a two-hit shutout through six innings. Felician reached him for a run-scoring double from Aponte and an RBI single by Mike Martone (Brick, N.J./Brick Memorial) in the seventh. The Golden Falcons pulled within 7-3 on Matt Diesel's (Massapequa Park, N.Y./Massapequa) groundout against the bullpen in the eighth, but a Wildcat insurance run in the ninth, again on a rally started by an error, secured the victory.

Aponte was 2 for 4 as Felician was out-hit, 9-7.

"Our tough (2-14) start in many ways brought us closer together," Langan said. "Guys really bought in to what we were trying to preach. We wanted team baseball and team at-bats and we knew we could get the pitchers on track. Championship Sunday didn't go as planned, but I'm proud of our guys for not letting the way we started dictate our season and our goals."