NORTH ANDOVER, Mass. (April 15, 2017) – Clinging to a 3-2, ninth-inning lead with the leadoff man on base on Saturday, freshman right-hander Derek Duffy (Farmington, Conn.) rolled up a double play and later picked the tying run off first base to end the game, as the Franklin Pierce University baseball team salvaged a doubleheader split at Merrimack. Earlier in the day, in the first game at Warrior Baseball Diamond, the Ravens led 8-0 in the fourth and 8-5 after seven, but suffered an 11-8 defeat.
With the split, Franklin Pierce now stands at 20-10 (12-4 NE10, 8-2 NE Div.) on the season, while Merrimack moves to 14-14-1 (8-4-1 NE10, 6-2-1 NE Div.). The win in the second game allowed Franklin Pierce to claim the three-game season series from the Warriors for the fourth straight season. The win in the first game allowed Merrimack to snap a nine-game losing streak against Franklin Pierce.
In the second game, Franklin Pierce faced what was essentially a "must-win" situation with the season series on the line, and the game went to the eighth inning tied at 2-2. The Ravens took advantage of a pair of two-out Merrimack errors to scratch out the eventual winning run. With two outs and nobody on, junior third baseman John Friday (Southborough, Mass.) hit a routine ground ball to third, but Merrimack freshman third baseman Joey Porricelli threw the ball away, allowing Friday to reach and advance to second.
Still, the Warriors had a chance to get out of the inning, as sophomore right-hander Tucker Lord got junior designated hitter Stephen Octave (New Windsor, N.Y.) to pop up in foul territory on the right side, but senior catcher Chris Cimmino dropped the ball to keep the inning alive. Granted a second life in the at-bat, Octave made the errors hurt, as he turned on the next pitch and ripped it inside the bag at third and past a diving Porricelli for an RBI single to give the Ravens the lead.
Duffy, who had come on with two outs in the sixth and surrendered a game-tying double, was the beneficiary of the Octave single on the mound for Franklin Pierce. Given the lead, he stranded a two-out single in the bottom of the eighth, but then allowed a leadoff single to center by junior right fielder Matt Nicholson to open the last of the ninth. The baserunner would not be out there for long however, as Duffy then got sophomore designated hitter Matthew Ronai to bounce into a 5-4-3 double play. Duffy allowed a two-out single to junior pinch hitter Mike Hoalcraft, but then picked him off first base to end the game.
In all, Duffy (1-0) threw 28 pitches (20 strikes) over the final 3.1 innings for the Ravens. Though he surrendered the game-tying double on the first pitch he threw, he was ultimately not charged with a run of his own, allowed five hits and struck out one while picking up the win out of the bullpen.
Duffy picked up the win in relief of senior right-hander Ben Collincini (Freehold, N.J.), who turned in one of the more important starts of the season thus far for the Ravens. With the bullpen severely taxed and emotions high after the wheels fell off for Franklin Pierce in the first game, Collincini fired 74 pitches (48 strikes) while throwing four-hit ball over 5.1 innings to settle things back down. He was ultimately charged with two runs, did not issue a walk, struck out three and did not factor in the decision.
Earlier, Merrimack had opened the scoring in the second game with a run in the bottom of the second. Junior center fielder Tyler Lyne ripped a double to left leading off, and wound up on third on the play, as graduate student left fielder Anthony DeDona (Bethpage, N.Y.) could not collect the ball cleanly. Lyne would then trot home to score while Porricelli reached on an error.
Franklin Pierce evened things up with an unearned run in the top of the third. Senior center fielder Lucas Luopa (Keene, N.H.) started things with a two-out walk. He was set to move around to third on a double down the left-field line by junior right fielder Adam Chase (Bridgewater, Mass.), but then took home as well, as freshman left fielder Michael Mercuri could not field the ball cleanly.
The Ravens struck for a 2-1 lead with a run in the top of the fifth. Senior second baseman Kyle Hood (Arlington, Mass.) put a single inside the left-field line and moved to second on a groundout, before taking third as Luopa reached on an error by Porricelli at third. Hood then scored on an RBI single to center by Chase.
Merrimack tied the game at 2-2 in the bottom of the sixth, setting the stage for Octave's eighth-inning heroics. Lyne led off, lashed a single to left and then stole second. After Collincini struck out Porricelli, the Ravens turned to junior left-hander Adam Goss (Waterford, Conn.), with left-handed hitting first baseman Cam DiSarcina coming to the plate. Goss did his part and struck out DiSarcina for the second out, and was then relieved by Duffy. Duffy was greeted rudely, as Nicholson drove the first pitch he threw deep to center field for a game-tying double. Duffy then bounced back to strike out Ronai to end the inning and strand the go-ahead run at second.
Even earlier in the day, the Ravens jumped out to an 8-0 lead in the first game with a seven-spot in the top of the third and another run in the fourth, though it would all be for naught. DeDona had the big blow of the third inning, with a two-run double into the gap in right-center, which was part of a 3-for-5 day with a pair of RBI doubles. Octave -- who caught the first game -- had a two-run single in the frame, while Hood had an RBI single and Chase plated a run with a bases-loaded walk. In the fourth, freshman designated hitter Dylan Jones (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) was hit by a pitch with one out and scored from first as DeDona followed with his second double to right-center in as many innings.
Merrimack steadily chipped away at the lead, with one run in the bottom of the fourth, three in the fifth and one more in the sixth to cut the gap to 8-5, with all five runs being unearned. In the fourth, DiSarcina singled to center, moved to second on a passed ball and later scored on an RBI groundout by Ronai. In the fifth, Lyne drove in a run with a single, DiSarcina took a bases-loaded walk to force in a run and Nicholson bounced into an RBI fielder's choice. In the sixth, Porricelli singled to right, advanced on an error and later scored on a balk.
The Ravens were able to hold onto the 8-5 lead going into the eighth, but then the Warriors struck for six -- including four more unearned runs -- in the home half of the eighth to complete the comeback. The inning even began with an ominous start, as graduate student right-hander Jared Habershaw (Kingston, R.I.) struck out junior catcher Ricky Smith leading off, only to see Smith reach at first on a passed ball. Senior second baseman Ryan Petrone was then hit by a pitch, before Mercuri put a comebacker off of Habershaw and into no man's land on the left side of the infield for a single to load the bases.
The lineup flipped back to the top for freshman shortstop Nick Shumski, who hit a soft grounder out towards short which left freshman Joe Napolitano (Port St. Lucie, Fla.) with no play and went for an RBI infield single to make it 8-6. Habershaw then issued a bases-loaded walk to Lyne to force home Petrone and make it 8-7. With DiSarcina due up, the walk spelled the end of Habershaw's day, as Goss came on to face the lefty.
Goss retired DiSarcina this time as well, but the latter was able to put the ball in play and elevate it after fouling off four pitches in the plate appearance. He lifted a game-tying sacrifice fly to center field to score Mercuri.
The Ravens turned the ball over to junior right-hander Ryan Covelle (Medford, Mass.) from there, and things only continued to unravel. Facing a first-and-second, one-out situation with the tying run at second, Covelle entered to face Nicholson and got a second-pitch comebacker which could have been an inning-ending 1-6-3 double play. Instead, Covelle mistakenly elected to first look to third base, only to find no play and a surprised Friday. By the time Covelle looked to second, there was no play there either, and he was forced to toss the ball to first for an out as the runners moved up.
The mistake proved costly, as Ronai followed and went the other way to line a two-run single into right field to give the Warriors a 10-8 lead. After he hit Porricelli to put runners at first and second, Covelle went to work on Smith, still trying to limit the damage.
After the count went full on five pitches, Covelle threw the sixth pitch at Smith's knees, and either on or around the outside corner. Home plate umpire Joseph Peters -- who had drawn the ire of both sides throughout the contest -- was unmoved by the pitch, calling ball four and sending Smith down to first to load the bases, while the call drew a wave of objection from fans, coaches and players alike. Head coach Mike Chambers earned his first career ejection in short order, as Peters was not buying the protestations of the Franklin Pierce dugout, which only served to further the consternation of the pro-Ravens portion of the assembled crowd. Perhaps unnerved by the call and/or the ensuing heave-ho, Covelle proceeded to mishandle a comebacker from Petrone, which allowed Ronai to score to make it a three-run game.
Franklin Pierce did show some life in the top of the ninth, but could not come up with a rally of its own. Chase reached on an error by Shumski at short leading off, and Friday followed with a single through the left side to make it two on and nobody out. However, Merrimack turned the ball over to senior right-hander Nate Spielvogel, who retired all three batters he faced, with a pair of strikeouts, to nail down his second save of the season.
Sophomore right-hander Zach Hart (Wallingford, Conn.) started on the mound for Franklin Pierce in the first game and did not factor in the decision after throwing 72 pitches (53 strikes) over 4.1 innings. He was charged with four runs (all unearned) on five hits, walked one and struck out four. Habershaw (0-1) was hit with the loss out of the bullpen after his 1.1 innings of work. He was eventually tagged for five runs (two earned) on two hits, walked two, hit a batter and struck out two.
The Merrimack starter, sophomore right-hander Garrett Hudson lasted just 2.2 innings -- over which he threw 81 pitches (51 strikes) -- and was later bailed out by the offense. Hudson did not factor in the decision, but was shelled for seven runs (five earned) on nine hits in the short outing, walked two, hit two, threw a wild pitch and struck out four.
Junior right-hander Joe Westerman (1-0) did the heavy lifting out of the Warrior bullpen, as he tossed 96 pitches (64 strikes) over the next 5.1 innings to stem the tide and allow Merrimack to make its comeback. He allowed just one further run on five hits, walked four, hit three, threw two wild pitches and struck out seven.
The Ravens return to the field on Monday, April 17, when they travel to Bridgeport for a non-conference doubleheader featuring a pair of seven-inning contests. First pitch is set for 2 p.m. at The Ballpark at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport, Conn.
For more information on Franklin Pierce Athletics, please visit the official website of Franklin Pierce Athletics (http://athletics.franklinpierce.edu). Also be sure to follow the Ravens through the Department of Athletics' official Facebook page (http://www.facebook.com/FranklinPierceRavens), its YouTube channel (http://www.youtube.com/franklinpiercesports) and its Twitter feed (http://twitter.com/FPUathletics). Fans wishing to purchase Franklin Pierce baseball apparel can do so at the Department of Athletics' online store (http://athletics.franklinpierce.edu/store).