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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Mitchell stuns No. 9 Salisbury to reach NCAA regional championship round; Avery Point ousted

    Mitchell College’s Cam Varney pitches against Johnson & Wales during the Great Northeast Athletic Conference tournament final on May 10 in New London. (Dana Jensen/The Day)
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    The Mitchell College baseball team scored one of its biggest wins in program history on Saturday.

    And the Mariners did it at a perfect time.

    Riding senior righthander Cam Varney’s masterful one-hitter, Mitchell stunned ninth-ranked Salisbury, 5-1, in NCAA Division III regional winners bracket action at Govoni Park in Babson Park, Mass.

    With the victory, the Mariners (34-11) tied the program single season record for wins and advanced to the regional championship round for the second straight season. They’ll face Salisbury (30-10), which stayed alive by beating UMass Dartmouth 9-0, at 11 a.m. Sunday morning.

    Mitchell needs just one win to advance to the super regionals for the first time.

    For the second straight game, Mitchell received a complete game performance from a starting pitcher. The day after junior Chris Gibbs’ gem against Babson, Varney dominated Salisbury, a powerhouse program that has reached the College World Series three straight years and eight times overall.

    “Starting pitching sets the tone,” Mitchell coach Shawn Gilblair said. “Fortunately for us, Gibbs and Varney have both gone out there and done a great job, controlling the game and controlling their emotions and being efficient. … Those guys are just veteran guys, battle-tested. The experience is paying dividends for them.

    “They pitched their best games in the biggest spots.”

    Varney (5-1) relied on his changeup to keep Salisbury, which came in hitting .322, off-balance. He finished with six strikeouts, two walks and hit three batters.

    He learned from a previous NCAA regional start in his career, lasting only two outs in a 7-1 loss against No. 10 Rowan in 2022.

    “I just came outside of myself and tried to do too much,” Varney said. “Today, I just tried to do what I’ve been doing all year.”

    The Mariners struggled against ranked teams during the regular season, going 0-4 while allowing at least six runs in every game.

    With Varney in control and some timely hitting, Mitchell posted a statement-making win, seizing the lead by scoring two runs in the fifth and three in the sixth.

    The Mariners continued to receive contributions from different players in the lineup and finished with nine hits. On Saturday, junior Jack Hayes (3 for 4, two RBI) and sophomore Savier Paige (1 for 3, RBI), who made his first appearance since April 23, had productive games.

    “One through nine, we’re tough,” Gilblair said. “We have guys that are capable of doing different things. … You never know where it’s going to come from.”

    Paige’s RBI single broke the scoreless tie in the fifth and a second run scored on a double play ball to make it 2-0.

    Mitchell kept the pressure on in the sixth.

    After seniors Robbie DelaCruz and Cole Lalli walked and freshman Michael Ficocelli singled to load the bases with nobody out, Hayes knocked in two runs with a single. A throwing error increased the lead to 5-0.

    Varney did the rest.

    He remained composed with runners on base, escaping a first and second with one out jam in the second after hitting two batters. In the third, he got out of trouble after a runner reached second with one out. He struck out Andrew Kell, who leads the country with a .491 batting average, looking for the final out in the fifth to strand a runner on third.

    Entering the ninth, Varney had retired 10 straight batters before Danny Sheeler led off with a single to left field. Sheeler scored on a sacrifice fly before Varney struck out Ben Anderson to end the game.

    “I definitely wasn’t disappointed,” Varney said about losing the no-hitter. “I pitched such a good game leading up to it. We still got the win and that’s all that really matters.”

    The Mariners are entering the regional championship round with a rested pitching staff. Sophomore Jacob Quiles (6-3, 4.35) will make the start on Sunday.

    They reached this point last year and then lost twice to Wheaton, 6-5 and 5-3, to fall just short of winning the regional round.

    “We’re in a good position, but you know how that goes,” Gilblair said. “We’ve got to take it one pitch at a time and not get ahead of ourselves.”

    Avery Point eliminated

    • UConn Avery Point saw its season end with a 9-5 loss to Westchester (N.Y.) Community College in the championship round of the NJCAA East District tournament, a four-team double elimination event.

    Elian Collado and Will Estronza had two hits each for the Pointers (20-15) and Collado finished the season with a .488 batting average.

    g.keefe@theday.com

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