EAST PROVIDENCE, RI – Freshman catcher Nic Lops (South Portland, Maine/Cheverus) capped a five-run inning with a game-winning two-run single with two out in the bottom of the ninth to lift top-seeded Saint Joseph's (35-5, 14-2 GNAC) past #4 Suffolk University (20-22-1, 11-5 GNAC), 7-6, in the 2012 Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) Championship game at Pierce Field on Sunday afternoon.
Trailing 6-2 with one out in the bottom of the final frame, the Monks managed to draw five walks and record a pair of clutch hits en route to the thrilling triumph. At bat with the bases loaded, senior shortstop Dan Achorn (Bow, N.H.) delivered a seeing-eye single to plate one run, but Suffolk second baseman Devan Jones (Roslindale, Mass.), in an attempt to throw out Sam Butts (Saco, Maine) at second, heaved the ball into deadball territory beyond the left field line, allowing Brandon Chase (Naples, Maine) to score and Achorn and Butts to move up to second and third, respectively.
Freshman Joe Coyne (Duxbury, Mass.) strode to the plate and lofted a ball to right for a sac fly, making it a 6-5 game with a runner on third and two out. Rams reliever Tim Belanger (Raynham, Mass.) then issued an intentional walk to SJC first baseman Mike Pratt (Dartmouth, Mass.) and sophomore Alex Lorenc (Nanuet, N.Y.) followed by working a walk on four straight pitches to load the bases yet again. This set the stage for Lops, who lined an 0-1 offering into right-center to send Achorn and pinch runner Louie Vigars (Stratham, N.H.) across home plate for the victory.
With the conference championship, the Monks claim the automatic NCAA Tournament berth awarded to the GNAC tourney victors and will participate in the NCAA DIII National Tournament for the third consecutive season and sixth time in the last seven years overall.
Saint Joseph's, which won North Atlantic Conference (NAC) championships in 2005, 2006 and 2007, is now an incredible 25-2 (.926) in conference tournament play since 2005. St. Joe's and Suffolk have met in the GNAC title game in each of the last five years and the Monks' only playoff losses have come at the hands of the Rams, who topped the Royal Blue twice in the 2009 tourney en route to the GNAC crown that year.
St. Joe's came from behind in each of the last two tourney tilts and followed a similar, although much more dramatic, script today. After two scoreless innings, the Rams jumped out to a 3-0 lead with the help of a two-run single off the bat of junior Jhonneris Mendez (Boston, Mass.) in the top of the third. The Monks responded when Coyne plated Achorn with a double in the bottom of the third and added another run when Lorenc belted a solo home run in the fourth, but Suffolk managed to plate single runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh innings en route to a 6-2 advantage.
Rams freshman starter Josh Desai (Shrewsbury, Mass.) held the SJC bats to just two runs and eight hits over 8.1 innings, but the southpaw – who earned the starting nod and tossed six innings in a GNAC Tournament win over Albertus Magnus on Tuesday – had clearly run out of gas after walking third baseman Dan Brown (Portland, Maine/Deering) and Chase with one out in the ninth inning. The Suffolk coaching staff lifted the crafty rookie in favor of Belanger, who struggled with his command and recorded one out – the Coyne sacrifice fly – in his outing.
Saint Joseph's reliever Andrew Devereaux (Hope Valley, R.I.), now 2-0 on the year, made the come-from-behind victory possible, as the senior slinger allowed one run off two hits and a walk while fanning one in 3.2 innings of relief to collect the winning decision. Starting pitcher Lincoln Sanborn (Standish, Maine) yielded five runs off eight hits and five free passes with five K's in 5.1 innings before being lifted in favor of his senior teammate.
Desai allowed four runs off eight hits and four walks with five strikeouts in 8.1 innings fell to 1-4 on the year with the loss. Belanger surrendered three runs off two hits and three walks in 1/3 inning of relief.
Offensively for the Monks, Coyne was 2-3 with a double and two RBI, Achorn went 2-5 with two runs, a double and an RBI, Chase added two hits in three trips and scored a run, and Lops went 2-5 with a double and two RBI.
For the Rams, Mendez was 3-5 with a run and two RBI, Justin Knight (Hackettstown, N.J.) went 2-4 with two runs scored, Chris Stanley (Placentia, Calif.) chipped in with two hits and an RBI in four at bats, and Mike Cunningham (Syosset, N.Y.) was 1-3 with a solo home run in a losing effort.
The 2012 GNAC All-Tournament Team was announced during the postgame festivities and four Saint Joseph's players earned honors. Lops was selected as the tourney's Most Valuable Player and was joined on the prestigious list by Lorenc, junior pitcher Tyler Laverriere (Biddeford, Maine) and freshman pitcher Alex Valenti (Lawrence, Mass.).
With the victory Saint Joseph's improves to 17-12 in the history of the series with Suffolk University and has now defeated the Rams in six consecutive meetings, including four this spring. Prior to this season, St. Joe's had not defeated the same team four times in a single campaign since the Monks topped the Rams on four occasions in 2008.
2012 GNAC TOURNAMENT RESULTS:
Tuesday, April 24
Suffolk 7, Albertus Magnus 6
Anna Maria 12, Emerson 0
St. Joseph's (ME) 7, Suffolk 5
Anna Maria 5, Johnson & Wales 3
Suffolk 8, Johnson & Wales 0
St. Joseph's (ME) 6, Anna Maria 3
Suffolk 15, Anna Maria 2
St. Joseph's (ME) 7, Suffolk 6
Nic Lops, Saint Joseph's – Most Valuable Player
Alex Lorenc, Saint Joseph's
Tyler Laverriere, Saint Joseph's
Alex Valenti, Saint Joseph's
Jhonneris Mendez, Suffolk
Devan Jones, Suffolk
Mac Jacobson, Suffolk
Shawn Haugh, Johnson & Wales
Sean Radu, Johnson & Wales
Jeff Scafidi, Anna Maria
Justin Hyland, Anna Maria