Mitchell puts on dominating performance to win NECC baseball title
New London — Forgive Mitchell College for draining all the drama out of Sunday's New England Collegiate Conference baseball tournament championship game.
The top-seeded Mariners weren't about to fall short of their mission to earn an NCAA Division III tournament bid for the first time since 2018. They also were determined to wipe out the sour taste of a loss in the 2019 NECC tournament final.
So, they unleashed their relentless offensive attack on third-seeded Elms College, pounding out 11 hits in the first two innings to build a comfortable lead and finishing with 22 hits in a 15-2 rout at Alumni Field.
They also received a terrific pitching performance from sophomore Camren Varney, who allowed just one run, four hits and struck out six in eight innings. All three Mariner starters in the tournament went at least six innings.
Nothing could stop Mitchell, which dealt with its share of COVID-19 related disruptions and game cancellations. Elms (10-14) emerged out of the losers' bracket to make the final.
"It's the culmination of two and a half years," coach Travis Beausoleil said. "We've been the best team in the conference for probably seven or eight years. It doesn't mean you can't get picked off.
"To get upset in the (NECC) tournament in 2019 and then everyone is ready to go (in 2020) and get retribution and then COVID hits and the year gets taken away. What these guys did, battling through every bit of uncertainty (this season). No one knew if they were going to be on the field the next day or not. The tournament could have been snatched away if a couple of cases pop.
"It's special. It really is special for these guys and for the guys who were a part of the 2019 squad. They brought the trophy back to where it needs to be."
It was a dominating tournament performance by the Mariners (24-6), who outscored their three opponents 43-5 in their run to the program's seventh tournament title since 2011. They've captured 11 games in a row.
Following the final out, the jubilant Mariners created a celebratory dog pile on the mound and then shared hugs and handshakes.
"We saw it coming this year," said junior Hunter Yaworski. "We knew we had the capability to do some damage to some teams. It was just an out-of-body experience to be able to dog pile like that."
In another showing of the team's quality depth, all nine Mariner batters in the starting lineup contributed at least one hit. Senior Anthony Diaz led the way by going 4-for-4, including a solo home run, with three RBI. Tournament Most Valuable player Dougie DelaCruz of Montville had three hits and three RBI and Yaworski had two hits and three RBI.
DelaCruz, the two-time NECC Player of the Year, went 9-for-14 with eight RBI and eight runs scored in the tournament while NECC Pitcher of the Year Roland Thivierge and Yaworski also made the all-tournament team.
Mitchell scored all the runs it needed in the first inning, quickly erasing a 1-0 deficit by notching three runs.
The first three hitters — Montville's Jeremy Sagun, senior Jakari Pellegrini and DelaCruz — each singled against Austin Roy, who was trying to give a lift to a depleted pitching staff.
Sagun raced around third on DelaCruz's hit but fell before reaching home plate after injuring his hamstring. Somehow, Sagun got up and scored, diving in just ahead of the throw to tie the game at 1-1. He collapsed on the field and had to leave the game, being replaced at shortstop by Robbie DelaCruz, a freshman from Montville. DelaCruz chipped in two hits and two RBI.
"What a gutsy effort to finish the play," Beausoleil said. "If he gets thrown out, that could change the whole dynamic of the game. And I can't say enough about Robbie DelaCruz."
Yaworski's sacrifice fly put the Mariners ahead for good, 2-1, and Diaz added a two-out RBI single.
Varney (4-0), who lowered his league-leading earned run average to 2.41, settled into a nice groove, retiring 18 of 19 batters including 12 straight batters.
"Knowing we have one of the best offenses in the nation, it's not a hard thing to do to just go out there and fill up the zone," Varney said. "I know my guys in the dugout are going to have (my back) the whole game."
The Mariners gave Varney plenty of support, as they added four runs in the second to take a 7-1 lead. Dougie DelaCruz's two-run single highlighted the outburst and senior Anthony Laureano also had an RBI single. They broke the game open by scoring one in the fifth and three in the sixth for an 11-1 edge.
While Varney wanted to finish the game, he was happy to turn the ball over to senior Bryce Bedard for the ninth inning. Bedard, a Norwich Tech graduate from Ledyard, is one of several Mitchell players to take advantage of the extra year provided by the NCAA due to last season's cancellation. He fielded a ground ball and threw to finish for the final out.
"My guy Bryce has been here five years, I would rather have him finish that game over anybody else," Varney said. "He deserves it."
The Mariners will have plenty of time to prepare for the NCAA tournament. The field will be announced on Sunday, May 23.
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