The St. Thomas Aquinas College baseball team jumped into first place in the East Coast Conference standings on the strength of a double-header sweep over Molloy College, 6-4 and 6-5, at Palisades Credit Union Park. The Spartans, ranked #23 in the nation, have now won three straight over their conference rivals to improve to 27-9 overall and 13-2 in the ECC, with Molloy falling to 23-17, 15-4. With nine conference games remaining, STAC is also now just one win away from clinching one of the four berths to this season's ECC Tournament.
In Friday's opener on Long Island, the Spartans jumped out to a big lead and held on for a 9-8 win, and Saturday's games followed a similar script. Mark Shkrelja's sinking liner skipped past Molloy centerfielder Jake Saltzman for a two-run triple in the home first, scoring Joseph Pena and Nicholas Lucchese. Sean Hogan's fourth-inning sac fly got the Lions on the board, but STAC responded with three in the bottom half on the strength of Michael Morgan's RBI single, and a bizarre sequence which saw the hosts add two runs on Pena's run-scoring grounder, with errors to three different Molloy fielders following the fielder's choice, making the score 5-1.
Starter Jason Salva cruised through the first four innings before suddenly losing the plate in the fifth, and Angelo Navetta drove in two runs in a three-run uprising that was quelled only when Chris Pennell emerged from the bullpen to induce an inning-ending double-play, leaving STAC with a 5-4 advantage. Pennell was outstanding in 3.2 innings of one-hit relief and his teammates tacked on an insurance run on Tyler Patane's RBI single in the seventh.
From there, Angelo Baez came on to work a perfect ninth an earn his league-leading seventh save of the season, preserving the win for Pennell (5-1) while Molloy's Kevin Hiss (6-3) was tagged with the loss. Four different Spartans contributed two hits each in the 12-hit attack.
In game two, Molloy took its first lead of the series with Michael Wall's run-scoring double off STAC ace and conference ERA leader Frankie Moscatiello. The Spartans wasted no time responding, however, touching Molloy's Anthony Vano for six runs on just three hits in the bottom of the frame. Anthony Shkrelja led off with a single, brother Mark was hit by a pitch, and Tyler Patane walked, setting the table for Juan Adorno's opposite-field, bases-clearing double to make the score 3-1.
That rally was not yet over as Giovanni Dingcong doubled in a pair and STAC was off to a seemingly comfortable 6-1 lead. Moscatiello had allowed just two hits through five innings before falling victim himself in the sixth, as a trio of walks and a pair of singles combined for a four-run uprising, trimming the gap to 6-5 before Christian Allegretti came out of the pen to record the final out.
Once again it was time for Baez in the seventh and final inning, and the sophomore did not disappoint. For the third time in two days, Baez got the job done, retiring the side in order and extending a string which has seen him retire all eight Lions batters he has faced over the three games. Despite his toughest outing of the season, Moscatiello improved to 7-0 with a 1.29 season ERA, with Baez capturing save number eight. Vano fell to 4-2 on the season, as Anthony Shkrelja and Juan Adorno registered two hits each.
The four-game series shifts back to Long Island for Sunday's noon finale before the Spartans return to Palisades Credit Union Park on Tuesday for their final scheduled non-conference game of the regular season, a match-up between two of last season's three national finalists when STAC hosts defending Division II Champion West Chester University in a 6:00 pm start (please note revised start time!). St. Thomas Aquinas will close with a pair of conference weekends, taking on Mercy and LIU Post over the final two series.