After Surviving Once, Baseball Eliminated From NCAA Tournament

Players leaning over railing in dugout.
(Photo by Jim Stankiewicz)

HOOKSETT, N.H. – The Felician University baseball team played well into the New Hampshire night on Friday attempting to save its season and advance to Saturday's championship round of the NCAA Division II East II Regional Championship tournament. Felician, the East's No. 6 seed, stayed alive with a 6-5 elimination-game victory over No. 7 seed Assumption College at Penmen Field but then succumbed to host, No. 2 seed and No. 17 nationally-ranked Southern New Hampshire University, 8-0. The Golden Falcons' 2019 campaign ended at 12:13 a.m. on Saturday.

Felician completes the 20th season in program history with a won-lost record of 31-23.

The start of play on Friday was delayed by two hours due to overnight and morning rain. The day's first game saw No. 3 seed and No. 25-ranked LIU Post defeat SNHU in the winners' bracket final. Felician's elimination game against Assumption, originally scheduled for 3:30 p.m., instead commenced at 5:40. The Golden Falcons and Greyhounds were meeting for only the third time, and the first since 2013.

The Greyhounds, designated as the home team by NCAA rules, erased early deficits of 2-1 and 3-2. Felician graduate center fielder Ronnie Sessa (Chester, N.J.) broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run in the top of the sixth inning. But the Golden Falcon bullpen could not hold the lead for starting pitcher Alex Schwartz (Voorhees, N.J.).

Assumption senior shortstop Hunter Tralli (Berlin, Conn.) launched a solo homer with two outs in the seventh. Dillon Koster (Woburn, Mass.) led off the eighth with a walk and pinch-runner Dillon Zona (Shrewsbury, Mass.) was sacrificed to second base. Trevor McQuade (Westwood, Mass.) followed with a sharp single that initially saw Zona held at third, but a misplay in the outfield allowed the tying run to score. Golden Falcon closer Nick Nardulli (Staten Island, N.Y.) entered and escaped further damage.

Felician, however, drew a pair of walks to start the ninth. Greyhound reliever James McNamara (1-4) was on the verge of escaping after a fielder's choice bunt and a short flyout, but Anthony Condito's (Nutley, N.J.) ground-ball single through the right side sent L.T. Struble (Hammonton, N.J.) around from second base with the go-ahead run. A leadoff single, sacrifice and wild pitch gave Assumption a runner on third base with one out in the bottom of the ninth. But with the infield in, Felician second baseman Danny Healey Jr. (Brookhaven, Pa.) took a step and a dive to snare a hard ground ball for the second out, and Nardulli (3-2) sprinted to field a topped grounder and fired to first to end the game.

Junior Matt Lonardo (Cranston, R.I.) homered for Assumption (26-20) and was one of three Greyhounds with a pair of hits. Assumption was unable to capitalize on an 11-7 hits advantage. Schwartz allowed three runs on seven hits in a six-inning no decision. He struck out five batters while walking two. Felician's Sean Downey (Elizabeth, N.J.) hit a solo home run and Condito joined Sessa with a pair of RBI.

Felician's loser's bracket final against SNHU began at 9:25 p.m., with the Golden Falcons the designated home team. The Penmen plated an unearned run without a hit in the top of the first. During the home half, Jason Aponte (Loxahatchee, Fla.) singled up the middle and stole second base, but was left stranded.

It was the only safety of the game for Felician. SNHU junior right-hander Endy Morales (Holyoke, Mass.) (7-2) fashioned a one-hit shutout. He struck out four batters, walked two and hit two. Morales threw 110 pitches, 72 for strikes.

Felician senior righty Will Kazura (Linwood, N.J.) (4-3) matched Morales zero for zero after the first. When he was lifted after 5 1/3 innings and 99 pitches, Kazura had allowed just two hits – a bad-hop single and a pop-up lost in the lights for a double – walked two batters, and matched a season high with six strikeouts.

It was the top of the sixth that sealed the fate of the Golden Falcons. Kazura and two relievers gave up seven runs on four hits. During the frame, there were three walks, three stolen bases, and five passed balls. Penmen junior Tom Blandini (Bow, N.H.) capped the uprising by blasting a run-scoring triple and continuing to the plate when the relay throw was wild.

Senior right fielder Kevin Alexy (Newton, Mass.) was 2 for 4 with a double and a pair of RBI for SNHU (38-13).

Felician fell to 0-4 in NCAA Tournament play against the Penmen. SNHU has eliminated Felician in each of the Golden Falcons' last three trips to the East Regional.