The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team swept a wild East Coast Conference double-header at Molloy, winning both games by 8-7 scores. STAC topped the 30-win mark for the sixth straight season. The Spartans swept all five games from Molloy in the season series to improve to 31-13 overall, and remain in first place in the ECC with a 14-5 record, sitting 1.5 games ahead of LIU Post in the standings. Molloy dropped to 17-24, 10-11.
STAC won five-of-six games for the week after earning the #4 East ranking in the first official NCAA Regional Poll of the season. Seven teams will qualify for the NCAA Tournament from the East Region this season.
After sweeping a pair at PCU Park on Friday, the Spartans got on the board quickly in Saturday's opener, with Juan Adorno leading off with a single, moving to third on Joey Pena's double, and scoring on Anthony Shkrelja's sac fly in the opening inning.
Anthony Galanoudis helped the Lions answer with a pair in the 2nd, stroking a ground-rule double to right to make the score 2-1. Molloy starter Bobby Kelly was cruising until running into sudden trouble with two out an nobody on in the 5th. Pena singled and came around to tie the score on a Bobby Morse double. Anthony Shkrelja followed with an RBI double, and Greg Dawber's run-scoring single added to the four-run uprising, giving the visitors a 5-2 lead.
Spartans starter John Bednarek was unable to hold the lead, however, as Molloy answered with five runs on four hits in the bottom half, opening a 7-5 advantage. Again, STAC would strike with two out and nobody on in the 6th, with a Pena single serving as the catalyst and being followed by a game-tying homer from Morse.
From there, the bullpens took over, with neither team scoring until the visitors plated the eventual winning run in the 10th. Nick Lucchese led off with a double and advanced on a sacrifice, but Mark Shkrelja struck out for the second out of the inning. Coach Scott Muscat pushed the right buttons, with pinch hitter Anthony Maisano driving in the decisive run with an infield single.
Chris Pennell was near-perfect to earn the win in relief, allowing just one walk and no hits in 3.2 innings of spotless relief. Pena and Morse contributed three hits each, with Sean Klotsche tagged with the relief loss.
Game two started with a familiar patter, with Anthony Shkrelja hitting STAC's third first-inning homer in four games. Michael Rahn tied the game with an RBI single in the bottom half, but Mike Morgan homered in the second to put the Spartans on top, only to see the hosts tie the score again in the bottom half.
Angelo Navetta put Molloy on top with a 3rd-inning homer, but Lucchese started an epic stretch with a three-run blast in the 5th, giving STAC a 5-3 lead. Just one inning later, Lucchese hit a bases-clearing triple, giving him six RBI over the span of two innings, and staking the Spartans to a seemingly-comfortable 8-3 cushion.
As in the first game, the Lions would rally in the 5th, with Navetta's two-run double capping a three-run burst, trimming the gap to 8-6. Molloy put the tying runs on board in the 6th but only pushed one across, as George Navadel emerged from the STAC pen to earn the two-inning save.
Despite struggling for the afternoon, Anthony Morris worked the required four innings to earn the win, improving to a perfect 7-0 on the season, with Navadel claiming his 6th save. Kevin Hiss took the loss for the hosts, while Lucchese was the offensive star with a triple, homer and six runs batted in. On the day he went 4-for-9, narrowly missing a double-header cycle, with two doubles, a triple and a homer.
The Spartans close out the regular season with six games this week, five in ECC play. On Tuesday, they play rival Dominican in a non-conference tilt at PCU Park starting at 3:30. Wednesday features a big showdown with LIU Post, with the winner greatly enhancing its chances at the ECC regular-season title. That game is also at 3:30 at PCU. Finally, STAC closes with a four-game weekend set against Mercy, with home games Friday and Sunday bookending a Saturday road twin-bill.
St. Thomas Aquinas has already secured a berth into the ECC Tournament, which will be hosted by Molloy the following weekend.