Memorable Season Comes to end in NCAA Tournament
GAINESVILLE, FLA. - The Manhattan College baseball team went down fighting in its NCAA Tournament setback to Jacksonville in the elimination round at the Gainesville Regional. The Jaspers memorable 2011 campaign, which featured the program's second MAAC Championship and third Regular-Season title, came to an end with a 5-4 loss to the Dolphins on Saturday at McKethan Stadium on the University of Florida campus.
Manhattan (34-19) rallied back from a four-run deficit by scoring three times in the final three innings to pull within striking distance of Jacksonville (37-23). The Jaspers loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning and cut the score to 5-4 on a two-out throwing error by Dolphins third baseman Kevin Lehane. However, the Jaspers could not complete their third comeback walk-off in the last five games as Dolphins reliever Chris Kaminski got Manhattan designated hitter Kyle Murphy swinging for the final out.
"I thought our guys did a nice job bouncing back after yesterday," explained Manhattan's sixth year head coach Kevin Leighton. "Jacksonville is a very good program. Our guys fight until the end. We were one hit away from winning the game. It just didn't go our way."
The Jaspers worked 11 hits off Jacksonville's four man pitching staff, including nine hits against Dolphins' starter Steve Eagerton. Manhattan's offense was led by sophomores Anthony Vega and Nick Camastro who each finished 3-for-4 from the plate and combined to drive in three of the Jaspers' four runs. Eagerton worked through seven innings with two strikeouts to improve to a 9-0 on the year.
Manhattan red-shirt sophomore catcher Ramon Ortega continued his hot hitting in the postseason as he singled in his first two at bats. Ortega finished the year with the Jaspers' hottest bat hitting .438 over the final 10 games and he went .714 (5-for-7) from the plate in two NCAA Tournament starts.
"We came out here expecting a win," said Ortega. "We had a good year and this is a special team."
Jacksonville first baseman Adam Brett Walker, the 2011 Atlantic Sun Player of the Year, sent the Dolphins out to a one run advantage in the top of the first inning when he ripped a two-out RBI double down the left field line. It was the 23rd double of the year for 6'5' 222-pound sophomore.
Jaspers starting pitcher Eric Luksis settled in after the first inning as he yielded only one hit over the ensuing three frames. The 6'2" sophomore lefty struck out three batters in his 5 1/3 innings of work.
Manhattan locked the contest at 1-1 in the fourth inning when the Jaspers finally got to Eagerton. Jaspers' senior first baseman Austin Sheffield started it off with a single up the middle. Ortega followed with a hard hit ground ball to shortstop Chris Moye for a base hit, and then after a fielder's choice that put the runners on the corners Vega produced his game tying hit. The left fielder from Patchogue, N.Y. laced a two-out single through the right side for his 20th RBI of the year.
Jacksonville regained its one run edge in the fifth inning. Dolphins' catcher Alex Swenson singled to lead off the inning and worked his way to third base with a sacrifice bunt and balk. Jacksonville designated hitter Chris Connelly pushed Swenson across home plate with a sacrifice fly, a ball that looked like it was going to drop for a hit if it were not for the superb diving catch by Jaspers' senior centerfielder Mark Onorati .
The Dolphins tacked on two more runs in the fifth inning. Luksis ran into trouble after walking and hitting the first two batters. Walker broke Jacksonville's single season hits record with his 98th of the year, a single which loaded the bases. Luksis battled to strikeout the next batter, third baseman Kevin Lehane, but then walked right fielder Esterlin Perozo to force in the first run. It prompted a Manhattan pitching change for right handed junior Mike Giordano.
Giordano, the 2011 MAAC Tournament MVP, gave the Jaspers 3 1/3 solid innings of relief. He began by managing a one-out bases loaded situation to sneak out of the sixth inning by letting in only one more run on a sacrifice fly to Swenson, which put Jacksonville ahead 4-1.
Walker was responsible for the only run that Giordano gave up in the game when he delivered a RBI single in the seventh inning as Jacksonville took a 5-1 advantage. Giordano responded by retiring the final seven Dolphin batters of the contest in order, which included three straight strikeouts in the eighth inning. He finished with four strikeouts and allowed only one hit.
Camastro dropped a RBI single into center field in the seventh inning and Vega got another run in with a single through the right side in the eighth to make it a 5-3 ballgame. The Jaspers battled Dolphins reliever Chris Anderson in the ninth inning to make the contest interesting.
Onorati generated a walk before seniors Chad Salem was hit by a pitch and Mike McCann reached on a fielding error to load the bases with one out. Jacksonville called to the bullpen for Kaminski to work out of the jam. Kaminski managed to strikeout Sheffield cutting Manhattan down to its last out.
Manhattan stayed alive when Ortega reached on a throwing error from a routine ground ball. The error allowed Onorati to cross home plate. With the tying run 90 feet away, Kaminski was able to zone back in on Murphy to post the game ending strikeout.
The Jaspers' senior class consisting of Rob Ardino, Mike McCann, Mark Onorati, Chad Salem and Austin Sheffield complete their careers with 130 victories and posted a 72-22 (.766) MAAC record. McCann, Onorati, Salem and Sheffield combined for 998 hits and 689 RBI over their four years in Riverdale.