BOSTON – Sophomore righties Jack Risley (Willimantic) and Sam Gagnon (Andover) combined on an eight-hitter and All-Region junior third baseman Alex Parkos (Meriden) highlighted a four-run fifth inning with a three-run home run as the second-seeded Eastern Connecticut State University baseball team advanced to the championship round of the Little East Conference tournament for the 12th time in 22 years with a 7-4 elimination-round win over No. 5 UMass Dartmouth Friday night at Monan Park.
To secure an unprecedented tenth LEC tournament title, Eastern (25-15) must defeat top-seeded host and undefeated UMass Boston (33-8) twice Saturday. The championship round is tentatively scheduled to get underway at 11 a.m., weather permitting.
Ranked fifth nationally, UMass Boston downed Eastern, 7-1 earlier Friday in the winners' bracket final for its third straight tournament win.
Against UMass Dartmouth (25-14), Risley pitched into the fifth inning in fourth start of the year before giving way to the 6-foot-6 inch, 220 pound Gagnon (2-1) with a runner on first after the Corsairs had pushed across three runs to cut Eastern's lead to 6-4. Despite having pitched only 13 2/3 innings over eight appearances this year, Gagnon (2-1) shut the door the rest of the way.
Gagnon got cleanup hitter Mike Knell on a called strikeout to end the fifth and allowed only one baserunner the rest of the way on Mac Curran's two-out double in the sixth. Gagnon, who retired the final ten batters in order, threw 35 of his 50 pitches for strikes. Twice he got called strikeouts on 3-2 pitches. He did not walk a batter and struck out six, four looking.
Leading 2-1, Eastern scored four times in the fifth, chasing starter Nate Tellier by collecting four hits. With one out, junior centerfielder Alexander White (West Hartford) legged out an infield single – he also walked three times as the leadoff hitter – and after sophomore DH Jake LeFevre (Mansfield Center) walked, Parkos hammered the second pitch from new pitcher Zack Reid over the Green Monster in left to make it 5-1. Senior first baseman D.J. Scavone (Auburn, MA) followed with a first-pitch single to center – extending his on-base streak to 26 – and advanced to third on senior catcher Merlyn Herrera's (La Yaquiza, DR) opposite-field double to right. Freshman rightfielder Anthony Stigler (Mansfield) made it 6-1 when he sent in Scavone with a first-pitch sacrifice fly to center.
In addition to White, Herrera reached four times by walking three times to go along with his double. LeFevre walked twice and was hit by a pitch.
Risley carried a 2-0 lead into the fourth before the Corsairs broke through on a leadoff double by Chris Wood and Knell's sacrifice fly. UMass ended Risley's night with four hits and three runs in the fifth before Gagnon was summoned. Risley threw 43 of his 64 pitches for strikes. He gave up six hits while fanning three and walking only one.
Winners' Bracket Final
UMass Boston 7, Eastern Conn. 1
After winning its first two games, Eastern fell into the losers' bracket with the loss to the top seed and defending champions in the winners' bracket final Friday in the six-team double-elimination tournament at Monan Park.
UMass scored two in the first and leading 4-1 after six, broke the game open with three in the bottom of the eighth, two coming home on No. 9 hitter Charlie Huegi's two-out, opposite-field triple to right and ending Eastern's five-game winning streak.
Eastern senior starter Sam Kosterich (Stamford) allowed four runs on nine hits before departing one batter into the seventh inning. Kosterich (3-3) struck out one and walked three.
Trailing 3-0, Eastern got one back inn the sixth against winning pitcher Fernando Burgos (8-1) on freshman rightfielder Anthony Stigler's (Mansfield) two-out single to right which scored freshman DH Jack Rich (Meriden), who had opened the inning with a single and moved to third on junior third baseman Alex Parkos' (Meriden) single. UMass turned its second infield double play of the game in that inning to prevent more damage.
Eight different players contributed to Eastern's nine-hit attack, Senior catcher Merlyn Herrera (La Yaquiza, DR) reached three times with two singles and a walk, senior first baseman D.J. Scavone (Auburn, MA) three times with an infield single and two walks. Junior centerfielder Alexander White (West Hartford) and junior leftfielder Ryan Hood (Arlington, MA) each doubled. Scavone extended his on-base streak to 25.
Eastern played perfect defense for the third straight game but stranded ten runners, three times leaving two.