STANDISH, ME – Top-seeded Saint Joseph's (33-5, 14-2 GNAC) rallied to defeat #4 Suffolk University (18-21-1, 11-5 GNAC), 7-5, in a Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Tournament quarterfinal contest at Larry Mahaney Diamond on Thursday afternoon.
With the victory St. Joe's remains in the winner's bracket of the GNAC Tournament and will face #3 Anna Maria College, which defeated #2 Johnson & Wales University by a 5-3 margin earlier this evening, at Pierce Field in East Providence, RI – the host-site of the tourney - on Saturday at 1:00 PM. Suffolk heads to the loser's bracket and will play Johnson & Wales in an elimination game on Saturday at 10:00 AM.
The Monks trailed by a 3-1 score heading into the bottom of the fifth when junior first baseman Mike Pratt (Dartmouth, Mass.) launched a three-run homer over the left-center wall. The visiting Rams managed to regain the lead by scoring twice in the top of the sixth, but St. Joe's captured the lead for good when junior second baseman Brandon Chase (Naples, Maine) hit a two-run jack, lifting the Royal Blue to a 6-5 edge through six frames. Senior shortstop Dan Achorn (Bow, N.H.) provided the Monks with some breathing room when he drove his first home run of the season, a solo blast, over the left field fence in the bottom of the eighth.
Suffolk kicked off the game scoring with three runs off four hits in the top of the third. SJC starter Chad Rafferty (Keene, N.H.) started off the frame by fanning shortstop Justin Knight (Hackettstown, N.J.) for his fourth consecutive strikeout, but the Rams went on to notch four singles and a pair of walks, with third baseman Mike Muse (Milton, Mass.) and J.C. Collette (Amesbury, Mass.) rapping RBI base hits and left fielder Chris Stanley (Orange County, Calif.) drawing a bases-loaded free pass to put the visitors up 3-0 halfway through the third.
The damage could have been much worse however, as Rafferty struck out catcher Danny Gunn (Medford, Mass.) – looking – on a 3-2 count with the bases juiced in the third.
With just one hit – a Joe Coyne (Duxbury, Mass.) single in the first inning – through three frames, the Monks' offense finally showed some life in the fourth by scoring a run off a hit and a Suffolk miscue, cutting the deficit to 2-1 through four full innings. With one out, junior right fielder Alex Lorenc (Nanuet, N.Y.) ripped a ground ball up the middle that was mishandled by Knight, moved up a bag when freshman catcher Nic Lops (South Portland, Maine/Cheverus) was hit by a pitch, and scored on an Alex Markakis (Lynnfield, Mass.) single through the left side.
Rafferty held the Rams' bats in check in the fifth, allowing the SJC offense to lay claim to the hosts' first lead of the afternoon by scoring three runs in the bottom of the inning. Center fielder Nate Martin (Chebeague Island, Maine) led off with a walk and moved to second on an Achorn single. Looking to spark the team with the small-ball approach, Coyne dropped down a well-placed sac bunt to move both runners up on base. The play proved to be moot however, as the following hitter – Pratt – crushed a 3-1 fastball deep to left-center for a three-run tater.
But the SJC lead was short-lived, as Suffolk proceeded to score twice off two hits in their next turn. Gunn reached with a single to right and came around to score when Jones slapped a single up the middle and Jacobson, who walked, scored on a Muse single through the right side to make it a 5-4 game in favor of the Rams.
The scoring pendulum swung for the final time in the bottom of the sixth when Chase lifted his team-leading seventh home run of the year over the fence in left field. Senior third baseman Dan Brown (Portland, Maine/Deering) led off the inning with a single to center and Chase, who twice squared to bunt during the at bat, homered on a 1-2 offering from Suffolk starter Mitch Monke (Springfield, Ohio) to provide the Monks with the final lead of the game.
The Rams again threatened in the top of the seventh, loading the bases with two hits and a walk and nobody out, but Rafferty worked out of the jam with a strikeout and a pair of harmless outs to preserve the SJC lead.
After allowing a leadoff double to Jacobson in the top of the eighth, Rafferty was removed in favor of freshman righthander Alex Valenti (Lawrence, Mass.), who was brilliant in relief. The first-year hurler fanned Jones and induced a groundout from Muse before intentionally walking first baseman Jake Cintolo (Wrentham, Mass.). With the tying run 180 feet away and a 3-2 count on Collette, Valenti unleashed a filthy curveball that was swung through for strike three.
With two out in the bottom of the eighth, Achorn doubled the Monks' advantage with one swing when he belted a 1-0 pitch tossed by Suffolk reliever Tim Belanger (Raynham, Mass.) far beyond the left field wall.
Valenti was one his game in the ninth as the wily freshman required just 10 pitches to retire the Suffolk side in the final frame.
Although not at his best, Rafferty – now 8-0 on the year - turned in gutsy performance, striking out a season-high 11 batters with five runs allowed off 12 hits and four walks in seven innings. Valenti picked up his third save of the season after fanning two and walking one over two frames of relief work.
Monke falls to 3-4 on the season after giving up six runs (five earned) off seven hits and two walks with eight K's in five innings. Belanger yielded a run off two hits and a walk in three relief innings.
Offensively for the Monks, Pratt was 2-4 with a run and three RBI, Achorn went 2-5 with two runs and an RBI, and Chase plated a pair in the victory.
For the Rams, Jones was 3-5 with a run, a double, and an RBI, Muse went 2-4 with a run and two RBI, and Jacobson reached base three times with two hits and a walk while notching two runs and a two-bagger on the afternoon. Suffolk stranded 11 baserunners in the losing effort.
St. Joe's has hit three home runs in a pair of contests this spring, the first trifecta coming in a win over Maine-Farmington at Mahaney Diamond on April 13th when Pratt, Lorenc and Chase all connected for big flies.
With the win Saint Joseph's improves to 16-12 in the history of the series with Suffolk University. The Monks have defeated the Rams in five consecutive meetings, including all three matchups this spring.
Saint Joseph's College, founded in 1912 by the Sisters of Mercy, celebrates its Centennial year in 2012 with a theme of "Realize the Promise" – honoring our commitment to educating well-rounded graduates who combine career focus with classic liberal arts studies. A Private, Catholic, primarily residential, coeducational liberal arts institution, Saint Joseph's welcomes students of all ages and all faiths. The campus, located 18 miles northwest of Portland and just two hours from Boston, encompasses 350 acres along the shore of beautiful Sebago Lake in Standish, Maine. Enrollment ranges between 1,000 and 1,100 students annually. Saint Joseph's offers challenging academic programs in the liberal arts and sciences, education, nursing and business fields in a value-centered environment.