Eastern Connecticut 6, WPI 5
Mansfield, CT --- Armed with guts, guile and a rubber arm, senior co-captain Conor Fahey (Cumberland, RI) put the WPI Engineers on his back, adding another complete game to his stellar WPI career in an attempt to keep alive the Engineers' bid to go to the College World Series. The Engineers fell short in the end however, as Eastern Connecticut rallied from a 5-3 deficit heading into the ninth to pull off a walk-off 6-5 win and remain alive in the NCAA Division III New England Regional Tournament.
The Engineers finish their record-setting campaign with a 30-13 record and a third place finish in the eight-team regional. WPI concludes the best season in the 106-year history of the program, winning its first-ever regular season NEWMAC championship, earning its first-ever NCAA selection and setting the all-time school record for wins.
Eastern Connecticut moves on to the regional championship series
against defending national champion Trinity (32-5). A Trinity win
would give the Bantams the regional crown and send them to the
Division III College World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin. Eastern
would need back-to-back wins over Trinity on Sunday to earn a trip
to Appleton. Game one first pitch is slated for 1pm.
Fahey, who graduated from WPI with a degree in Management earlier in the day, was making his third start in eight days on just two days rest. He faced a Warriors team that is ranked third in the country in the latest NCBWA/D3baseball.com Top 25. Fahey allowed just three earned runs on seven hits while striking out seven, throwing an unbelievable 163 pitches in a complete game effort.
The senior co-captain fell to 8-2 in his final season and threw
303 pitches since Wednesday's tournament opener. Fahey, a first
team All-New England selection, finished up his standout WPI career
with 122 strikeouts in 104 2/3 innings this spring.
With 139 pitches thrown heading into the ninth, WPI head coach Mike Callahan decided to stick with the guy that got them to this point, and Fahey was up to the task. Up 5-3 and still throwing hard, Fahey retired the first batter of the inning before Jim Schult (Wappingers Falls, NY) lined a single off the glove of the third baseman. Shawn Gilblair (Windham, CT) followed with his third hit, a single to right that moved Schult to third. After a walk to Melvin Castillo (Danbury, CT), Tristan Hobbes (Utica, NY) hit a seeing-eye ground ball through the right side, plating two runs to tie the game at five. Left fielder Rob Perry (Manchester, CT) then hit a grounder to third but, after checking the runner at third, the throw across the diamond got away, allowing ECSU to score the winning run and bring WPI's season to an untimely and dramatic conclusion.
"People were asking how Conor would be on only two days rest," senior co-captain Scott McNee (Falmouth, MA) recalled. "I just laughed because he would have thrown yesterday if it was up to him. 250 pitches, it wouldn't have mattered... whatever you need from him, he's going to give his all."
"I just can't say enough about Conor," head coach Mike Callahan said. "He wanted the ball. He came up to me yesterday and said 'I'm pitching tomorrow.' That was probably the best pitching performance of his career. He's had better stuff, but that was just on guts. I've never seen a kid do that. He would have fought me if I took him out of the game. He gave us the best chance to win and that was just a gutsy, gutsy performance. After seeing what he did two days ago, that was just the best pitching performance I've ever seen."
As they did in the first two games of the tournament, both wins,
the Engineers scored first to take an early lead. Junior right
fielder Matt Moreau (Manchester, NH) reached base
by working a two out walk, moving to second on a wild pitch. WPI's
leading hitter, McNee, followed by driving Moreau home with
the first Engineers run, a deep RBI double off the wall in left
center, as WPI led 1-0 after a half inning.
Eastern Connecticut tied the score in the bottom of the third, thanks to a couple of bad hops that ate up Engineer infielders. Center fielder Joe Cousineau (Newington, CT) reached base on an error to lead off the inning, a high chop that took a short hop that got past the WPI second baseman. Later, with two out in the inning and Cousineau at third, Warriors shortstop Travis Bass (West Hartford, CT) pulled a lazy ground ball that took a high hop off the lip of the grass in front of the shortstop, scoring Cousineau to tie the game at 1.
The Warriors took their first lead of the game their next time up. Gilblair, the New England Region's Player of the Year, recorded his second hit off Fahey, a clean single up the middle to lead off the inning. Designated hitter Hobbes walked, moving Gilblair to second with one out. What followed was one of the strangest plays this season for WPI. Perry launched a fly ball to deep center, chasing center fielder Cody McGregor (Westfield, MA) back to the warning track where he made a sliding grab. Gilblair, tagging up toward third, got the green light from the Eastern third base coach and was able to score all the way from second, giving ECSU a 2-1 lead. Hobbes moved to second on the play and later scored on a Cousineau RBI single, as the Warriors grabbed a 3-1 edge after four.
The Engineers battled back however, tying the game in their half of the sixth inning in an attempt to save their season. McNee led off with his second hit of the game, a hard lined single to left. A Nick Bean (Middleboro, MA) walk and Watkins infield single loaded the bases for WPI with nobody out. The Crimson and Gray got its second run on a Ethan Brown (Lunenburg, MA) bases loaded walk and the tying run on a Joe Walsh (Weymouth, MA) sacrifice fly.
WPI pushed across the lead run in the next inning, as Paul Galligan (Weymouth, MA), led off with a single and stole second. The open base allowed Eastern to walk WPI's hottest hitter, McNee, intentionally, but the two runners were able to pull off a double steal with one out in the inning, giving WPI two runners in scoring position. Bean followed by striking out, but reached base on the third strike in the dirt. Alertly, Galligan raced home as the throw went to first in an attempt to get Bean, scoring the go-ahead run for the Engineers. WPI added an insurance run in the ninth on Moreau's career-high sixth home run of the season, a solo shot, setting up the dramatic bottom of the ninth.
James Kukucka (Vernon, CT) went the first six innings plus for Eastern Connecticut, allowing three runs on six hits and walking five, but striking out eight WPI batters on the afternoon. Chris Wojcik (Uncasville, CT) pitched 2 2/3 innings of relief of Kukucka, while Wes Dutton (Waterbury, CT) retired the last batter in the ninth and ended up the winning pitcher to even his record on the year at 1-1. Gilblair was the catalyst for the Warriors at the plate, turning in a 3-for-3 effort to keep ECSU's season alive. Cousineau and Schult had two hits apiece on the day.
Moreau, Watkins and McNee each tallied two hits for the Engineers. Moreau had two runs scored and the only home run of the game from either side while Brown walked three times on the day.
The WPI coaches and staff held a mock graduation ceremony after
the game, as a way to honor their seniors who missed graduation in
order to compete for a chance to go to the College World Series.
Fahey, McNee and Brown all ended their WPI careers to a rousing
ovation by the WPI fans, as did seniors Ben Erle
(Boylston, MA) and Jon Quintero (Miami, FL) who
were not in attendance. The five seniors bested the previous mark
for wins by a single class by a whopping 22 victories.
"Those five guys definitely left their mark on this program," said Callahan. "They're going to be missed."
Story by Ray Cotrufo '98 - WPI Sports Information