Mitchell College baseball stages dramatic rally to beat Tufts in NCAA Div. III regional opener
New London — A routine ground ball ended an NCAA Division III tournament regional game that was anything but routine on Friday.
Senior Lelo Martinez fielded a roller at third base and stepped on the bag for a force play and third out, stranding two runners and sealing Mitchell College’s 6-5 victory over Tufts University before 350 fans at Alumni Field
“There’s no better feeling,” said reliever Tyler Daly who was on the mound in the bottom of the ninth and allowed one hit in 2.2 scoreless innings to earn the win. “When Lelo steps on third, it’s a total rush of relief. It feels so good.”
In a tense postseason game filled with dramatic twists and turns, the Mariners (32-8) rallied from a two-run deficit by scoring two runs in the eighth and one in the ninth to pull out the thriller.
The victory sets up a winners’ bracket meeting at noon Saturday against eighth-ranked and top-seeded Wheaton College (38-6), which defeated Husson 11-3 earlier Friday.
Maybe by then coach Travis Beausoleil’s heart will stop beating out of his chest.
“This is one of the most exhilarating games that I’ve been a part of in my 12-year career,” Beausoleil said. “It was awesome. What a great game.”
Hard to argue with him.
The Mariners overcame some mistakes and a 5-3 deficit with some clutching hitting and shut-down pitching.
A few botched plays contributed to Tufts (31-10) taking its first lead with a three-run seventh inning. Jimmy Evans drilled a two-run double to break the tie. Right fielder Owen Robbins prevented another run with an impressive throw, cutting down a runner at the plate for the final out.
Trailing by two, the Mariners didn’t panic.
“You can pout and put your shoulders down and lose the game, or you can be tough, be gritty and come back,” Beausoleil said. “We had two innings left and our offense is one of the best in New England. We showed it today.”
Robbins started the eighth inning rally by drawing a walk and junior Justin Adorno walked with one out. After a groundout moved runners to second and third, junior Angel Galindez delivered a game-tying, two-run single to right field.
Galindez flipped his bat high in the air while running to first base.
“We’re having fun,” said Galindez, who finished with two hits and three RBI and earned the game ball from Beausoleil. “We’ve got to keep everybody happy. The energy has got to be there.”
After Daly retired the side in order in the eighth, the Mariners mounted their winning rally.
Senior Matt Falk walked and Martinez singled with one out. After Tufts closer Brendan McFall struck out Robbins, he threw a ball to Matthew Blackwell and grabbed his shoulder in pain.
The injury forced McFall to leave the game, bringing in Connor Podeszwa, a sophomore from Waterford. Blackwell walked to fill the bases and Podeszwa hit Adorno to force in the go-ahead run before recording the third out.
It was Tufts’ turn to try to answer.
An error and sacrifice bunt put the tying run on second base with one out. After a flyout, Beausoleil gambled by intentionally walking Evans, a move that he even questioned.
“I walked up and down the dugout when that happened and said, ‘Fellas, this is a bad managerial decision, you don’t put the game winning run on base. If we lose this, it’s 1,000 percent on me.’
“Our scouting report was don’t let Evans beat us and he beat us (in the seventh). I wasn’t going to let it happen again.”
Daly saved the Mariners and Beausoleil by retiring Connor Bowman on a harmless ground ball to end the threat and game.
“This team has all been to the regionals two or three times, so it’s a situation where he’s not going to get fazed,” Beausoleil said. “Ty is the guy.”
Senior Dougie DelaCruz finished with a team-best three hits, including two doubles, and an RBI while Adorno went 2-for-3 with two RBI. Starter Ryan Solimine pitched well in a bulldog effort, allowing six hits and two runs in 5.2 innings before running out of steam.
The Mariners are in the winners’ bracket for only the second time in the program’s eight NCAA tournament trips. They defeated Eastern Connecticut State University in 2014, but dropped the next two games.
“It’s huge,” Daly said. “Going through the losers’ bracket is really hard. Winning that first game and staying in the winners’ bracket is a really, really big step in the right direction for us.”
With rain in the forecast, tournament officials will decide early Saturday morning about what the schedule will be moving forward.
Hosting a regional for the first time in school history, the Mariners are looking forward to playing before their home crowd again.
“Hosting is a huge advantage,” Beausoleil said. “I don’t know if we go down 5-3 and we’re at another park that we come back. I’d like to think so, but you just don’t know.”
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