The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team used a 6-run second inning to defeat Southern New Hampshire University, 13-2, to win the NCAA Division II East Region Championship. The Spartans, with their second regional title in four years, will now play in the Elite Eight in Grand Prairie, Texas, starting on May 27.
St. Thomas Aquinas entered the weekend as the #3 seed and swept all four games - including a pair against top-seeded host SNHU - to improve to 42-15 overall, with the Penmen's season ending with a 43-11 record.
Greg Dawber and Joey Pena had three hits each, Anthony and Mark Shkrelja each homered, and Anthony Morris improved to 9-1 on the season with a strong outing as the Spartans put an exclamation point on their dominant weekend.
Giovanni Dingcong was named the Regional's Most Outstanding player with three home runs, while All-Regional selections included; Cris Ruiz (C), Bobby Morse (1b), Dingcong (OF), Mark Shkrelja (OF), Dawber (DH), Chris Cepeda (P), and Morris (P).
After a scoreless first inning, STAC jumped all over SNHU ace Mitchell Powers, who was working on just two days rest. With one out, Morse's tapper down the third base line was fielded nicely by Zach Goldstein, but his throw narrowly pulled Ryan Sullivan off first base for a single.
Mike Morgan followed by scorching a double into the left field corner and Mark Shkrelja, who did not start the first two games of the regional, lifted a three-run homer to left to give the Spartans a lead that was never threatened. STAC was far from done as red-hot Dawber followed with a single and Ruiz reached on a potential inning-ending double-play ball on which the throw was wide.
Given another chance, the Spartans took full advantage as Pena followed with a double, Nick Lucchese brought in two more with another two-bagger, and Anthony Shkrelja followed with a third straight double, making the tally 6-0 and bringing Powers' day to an early end.
Anthony Morris faced a threat in the home 3rd as the Penmen loaded the bases with one out, but the senior showed his grit by striking out the number three and four hitters - Derek Bauer and Sullivan, respectively - to escape the threat and dim SNHU's hopes.
Pena drove in another run by slicing a single to right to score Dawber in the 4th, but Penmen reliever Alex Person otherwise kept STAC in check until a late-innings explosion removed any doubt.
Lucchese again doubled with one out in the 7th, scoring on a Dingcong single, and Morse's RBI triple opened the gap to 9-0. Four more runs in the 8th set the celebration in motion as Ruiz and Pena added run-scoring hits and Anthony Shkrelja matched his twin brother with a two-run shot, chasing Person and opening a 13-0 chasm.
Morris allowed four hits over eight shutout innings before allowing 9th inning solo shots to Matt Rabbito Cam Oliveira yet closing out the complete-game victory, striking out seven while walking just one.
As amazing displays of their dominance over their four weekend outings, the Spartans outscored opponents by a 38-7 margin, batted .359 as a team, and pitched to a 1.00 Earned Run Average to punch their ticket to Texas.
Elite Eight details will be added to this recap when available.