Walk-off grand slam stuns Mitchell, ends season
New London — The pain of a New England Collegiate Conference tournament championship game defeat was etched across their faces.
It was especially difficult for the Mitchell College seniors.
Prior to Monday, they only experienced NECC title celebrations during their baseball careers, winning the previous three trips.
Tyler Pina broke down while receiving his all-tournament team award. Fellow senior Tristan Hurley started to cry while talking about what transpired.
"I'm sorry," Hurley said during an emotional post-game interview. "This is really hard."
Perhaps in a few days or few weeks the Mariners will realize what they accomplished during a remarkable run that included a conference-record three consectuive NCAA tournament berths.
But their emotional wounds were still too raw in the aftermath of a season-ending 10-6 loss to Lesley University, which captured its first NECC title in its first appearance in the championship round.
"We've been lucky enough to go to the (NCAA) regionals the last three years, but it's the same feeling when you lose that," Mitchell coach Travis Beausoleil said. "This one is going to hurt a little bit more because we were in the lead."
Senior Mike Slaby's two-out, walk-off grand slam capped a six-run rally in the ninth inning and helped the Lynx become the first No. 4 seed to raise the trophy. The NECC tournament most valuable player had to fight his way through a celebratory mob to reach home plate.
Beating three-time defending champion Mitchell to make program history was the cherry on top for Lesley, which trailed 6-3 in the eighth.
"They have been dominant and been the model," Slaby said. "They're such a good team. They've been one seed pretty much every year. Honestly, it means so much to take it from them especially.
"To be the best, you've got to beat the best."
Lesley (21-17-1) was the best team over the course of three-day tournament. The Lynx beat the top-seeded Mariners twice, starting off with a 5-4 win on Saturday to set the tone and remain in the winners' bracket.
Mitchell (29-13) won two elimination games on Saturday to reach the championship round, needing to win twice on Monday to keep their title streak alive.
But they fell short despite pounding out 15 hits.
Lost opportunities, base-running mistakes and one costly error proved to be too much to overcome. Sophomore Markus Melendez and junior Garet Griffin, who each had three hits and an RBI, also earned all-tournament honors. Junior Kyle Hartenstein added two hits and two RBI.
"They're well-coached and they don't beat themselves," Beausoleil said of Lesley. "They minimize innings. We had an opportunity to put a cleat to the throat — in the first inning we scored three — and we didn't make our adjustments.
"We got quiet for a little while and allowed them to chip and chip and chip. We've talked about that a lot over the last couple of weeks that if you allow teams to stay with you, they're going to beat you."
The Mariners never trailed until Slaby's blast, which came off of senior Axel De Jesus, the third pitcher in the inning.
They seized a 3-0 lead on Griffin's first-inning RBI single, Melendez's solo home run and Hartenstein's RBI single in the second.
After Lesley chipped away to tie the score at 3-all, Mitchell answered with three runs in the eighth. Pina led off with a walk and both Hurley and Melendez beat out bunts to load the bases with nobody out.
An error plated a run and then Steven Gonzalez drew a bases-loaded walk to make it 5-3. Hartenstein's sacrifice fly increased the lead to three.
Sophomore Bryce Bedard, a Norwich Tech graduate, was the loser. He had a decent outing in relief of Marcus Guadarrama, who lasted four innings in his first start of the season.
After pitching just 8.1 innings all year, Bedard battled his way through four innings, allowing six hits and four runs — only two earned — while striking out three and walking nobody.
In the pivotal ninth, Bedard struck out the first batter, but an error gave Lesley some life. He departed after allowing an RBI single to Ryan Pumphret (three hits, one RBI).
It was the beginning of the end for the Mariners.
Reliever Jakari Pellegrini gave up a game-tying single to Matthew Warner. De Jesus faced a bases-loaded, one-out situation when he entered the game. A force-out at home accounted for the second out, bringing up Slaby.
Slaby's fly ball just kept carrying until finally landing just beyond the left field fence. His teammates raced from the dugout and the dejected Mariners bowed their heads.
Long after the final out, the Mariners still lingered on the field. They exchanged hugs in an emotional scene.
"It's really tough," said Hurley, a Fitch graduate. "I played my last game on my home field. I learned a lot here in four years and I'm really happy that I came here. I met great guys and made great relationships with these guys. I wouldn't take it back for the world."
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