MANCHESTER, N.H. - The Saint Michael's College baseball team's upset bid of regional power Southern New Hampshire University was thwarted on sophomore Tom Blandini's walk-off single in the 10th inning on Wednesday evening, as the Purple Knights lost a 5-4 decision at Penmen Field.
The Purple Knights slipped to 5-17 overall - as seven losses have been by two runs or fewer, including five by a single run - and 1-6 in the Northeast-10 Conference. The Penmen, who qualified for the last six NCAA Tournaments and are second in this week's New England Intercollegiate Baseball Association (NEIBA) poll, improved to 14-10 and 4-3. Saint Michael's has now lost a one-run game to Southern New Hampshire four times in the past five years, with two contests extending to extra innings.
First-year Joe Webber (Marshfield, Mass./Bridgton Academy) slugged a go-ahead grand slam in the eighth inning for the Purple and Gold as part of a 3-for-4 day that included a stolen base. It was the first grand slam by a Purple Knight since Nick Nelson '14 launched one on April 20, 2013, versus the University of Massachusetts at Lowell. First-year Cameron Kroeger (Clearwater, Fla./Countryside) had a hit, run and walk, while classmate Danté Moran (Saint Petersburg, Fla./Dixie Hollins) knocked a double.
Redshirt first-year Paul Prue (Dennis, Mass./Nauset Regional/Wheaton [Mass.]) had his third straight strong start, allowing three runs - two earned - in six-plus innings while striking out a career-high-tying eight and walking one. He has yielded only three earned runs in 18 innings as a starter this season. Classmate Hunter Ruiz (Pflugerville, Texas/Hendrickson) tossed a no-hit, shutout inning before first-year Zach Rodgers (Parrish, Fla./Manatee) took the loss in his first career relief outing, allowing two runs in two innings and striking out three.
Blandini finished 3-for-5 with two runs, the RBI and a walk for the hosts, and redshirt senior Ryan Sullivan was 2-for-5 with two RBIs. Redshirt sophomore Joshua Goldstein went 2-for-4 with two runs and a double, and senior Mitchell Powers took a no-decision after allowing four runs on six hits in 7.2 innings with 13 strikeouts. Redshirt sophomore Brendan Welch nabbed the win, retiring all three batters he faced in the 10th.
Southern New Hampshire strung together three straight singles to begin the second inning, loading the bases before Prue fanned the next batter and got the final two to pop up. Webber beat out a bunt single to start the third before first-year Julien Giroux-Harvey (Montreal, Québec/Collège Jean-de-Brébeuf) reached on a sac bunt- error, but the final three Purple Knights were set down.
The Penmen plated an unearned run in the third, with Sullivan singling home Blandini, and the visitors left two on, including Webber, who had singled and stolen second, in the fifth. Graduate student Taylor Olmstead's squeeze made it 2-0 in the home half before the Purple Knights put runners at the corners with one down in the sixth, but a fielder's choice led to Moran, who had doubled, being cut down at the plate. Goldstein scored on a groundout in the seventh to make it 3-0, but Ruiz left the bases loaded with a strikeout of the final Penman.
With two out in the eighth, junior Sean Winthrop (Hopkinton, Mass./Lawrence Academy) struck out but reached first on a wild pitch, setting up the comeback. Kroeger and sophomore Connor Hopkins (Windham, N.H./Windham) walked to load the bases, and Webber cracked the 2-0 pitch over the right field wall for a go-ahead grand slam. Giroux-Harvey then walked and moved to second on a wild pitch but advanced no further.
Rodgers set down the hosts 1-2-3 in the home half before Southern New Hampshire used a ground-ball single and a wind-aided single to put runners at the corners with one out in the ninth inning of a 4-3 game. A tapper back to the mound led to the runner at third being caught in no-man's land, but he was able to return to the bag, loading the bases. Rodgers struck out the next batter for the second out before sophomore Jake Coro was hit by the 1-1 pitch, forcing in the tying run. The final Penman struck out, and the teams headed to extra innings.
Welch came out of the Southern New Hampshire bullpen to retire the visitors in order in the 10th, and all three Penmen reached in the home half. Senior Kyle Pangallo legged out an infield single and took second on an error, and Goldstein reached on a fielder's choice on his sacrifice bunt after the throw went to third, where Pangallo beat a close play. Blandini followed by knocking the first pitch to center field for the game-winning hit.
The Purple Knights begin a 13-game homestand on Saturday by hosting No. 5 University of New Haven for a 12 p.m. doubleheader. The Chargers' national ranking is according to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers Association (NCBWA).