(Norwich, CT) – The #2 Sacred Heart Pioneers beat the #1 Monmouth Hawks Saturday afternoon 6-1 in the winner's bracket of the Northeast Conference Baseball Tournament, and now are one win away from the program's second NEC title.
Nick Leiningen (Millwood, NY) pitched his seventh complete game victory of the year, dazzling for nine innings in holding the Hawks to a run on six hits with a walk and two strikeouts. JJ Edwards (Endwell, NY) drove in the winning run in the seventh to break a 1-1 tie with an RBI single to left, and Hunter Phillips (Monroe, CT) once again delivered a clutch two-out hit that brought home three runs on a double to right-center as part of a five-run seventh.
The Pioneers took the first lead of the game on an RBI single in the first by John Murphy (Seymour, CT) with two outs. SHU held the lead behind Leiningen's crafty work until Monmouth tied the game on a two-out RBI single by Ryan Terry in the sixth.
In the seventh, the Pioneers finally got to reliever Andrew McGee, who worked into his fourth inning of emergency relief of injured starter Dan Smith. McGee hit MJ Schifano (Monroe, NY) with a pitch to lead off the inning, and Steve Tedesco followed by knocking a groundball through the vacated second-base hole for a single (with Schifano running from first). That set up Edwards to punch the tie-breaking single into shallow left on a 2-0 pitch. After a walk and strikeout loaded the bases with two outs, Phillips drove a shot to the right-centerfield gap, allowing three runs to score on what was ruled a two-run double and error (on a bobble) by Hawks right fielder Jamie Rosenkranz. Dan Perez (Seymour, CT) knocked Phillips in from third with an RBI single to center.
Sacred Heart improves to a program-record best 33-21 on the season. The Pioneers have now won ten consecutive conference games, including the first two of the NEC Tournament, to improve to 25-9 in NEC play.
The Pioneers will play the winner of Sunday's elimination game between Monmouth and CCSU, who survived with a win earlier on Saturday against LIU. The elimination game is at 12:00 p.m., with the Pioneers taking on the winner in the championship game at 3:30 p.m.