St. Thomas Aquinas claims East Coast Conference title against Bridgeport
St. Thomas Aquinas captured the East Coast Conference championship with a 9-1 victory against Bridgeport. STAC lost the first game and then took four consecutive to earn the title. Kenny Kirshner had a double and two triples to lead the attack as the Spartans improved to 39-12, while Bridgeport's season ended at 22-26.
STAC, which saw its 13-game winning streak snapped in their loss to Bridgeport to start the tourney, has now taken 17 of 18 and 23 of 25 games overall. After allowing seven runs in that 7-3 loss, STAC pitching yielded just five runs - only two earned - through the final four games.
With St. Thomas Aquinas taking the morning contest by a 6-2 count, both teams returned to the field for the final game of the tourney. STAC's Rob Frank and Bridgeport's Shaun Hancock, who squared off just two days ago, took the hill for their respective teams.
After both teams went down in order, the Spartans took charge in the bottom of the second inning, starting with Mike Russo's league-leading 11th homer followed by Kirshner's first triple of the day. He scored on Efrian Bautista's single to put the team up a pair.
Frank completed four strong innings, allowing just two hits, while fanning seven before giving way to the bullpen. STAC added a run in the fourth on a familiar combination of a Kirshner triple and a Bautista single to make it 3-0.
Bridgeport answered with a run in the fifth off reliever Jon Scott, with Jesse Solar picking up a single, stealing second and scoring on Bryan Kondor's double. That was as close as Bridgeport got, however, with the Spartans answering quickly in the bottom half.
Andrew Romanella started things with a leadoff single and moved to third on Frank Salerno's one-out single. Nick Barbalato's sac fly scored Romanella, with Salerno advancing on the throw. Stanley Susana followed with an RBI single, giving STAC a 5-1 lead and knocking Hancock from the box.
Scott worked two more strong innings, keeping the Purple Knights off the board until the bats could put the game away with a four-run seventh, aided by a pair of Bridgeport errors. Salerno reached on an error and scored on a Susana triple. After a walk to Russo, Kirshner's double plated Susana and Russo. Bautista's third hit was also his third RBI of the game. Kirshner came in to provide a comfortable 9-1 margin.
Dan Diaz came on to work a scoreless eighth and ninth, allowing just one hit.
Scott was credited with the victory to improve to 5-0 on the season, with Hancock falling to 5-4 with the loss. STAC pitching combined for 11 strikeouts while holding the Purple Knights to just three hits.
St. Thomas Aquinas takes the automatic bid to the NCAA tourmanent, the first in the program's history.