Towson goes perfect through CAA Tournament to win first title since 1991
HARRISONBURG, Va. -- After using an impressive offensive display to reach the championship round of the Colonial Athletic Association Tournament, Towson (29-28) turned to senior righthander Mike Volpe to pitch the Tigers to a 5-2 victory against William & Mary (37-22) and the CAA championship at Veterans Memorial Park on Saturday afternoon.
The Tigers, who entered the tournament as the number four seed, completed their undefeated march through the CAA Tournament field on Saturday afternoon with their second win in two days against the Tribe. Towson opened the tournament with a 9-8 win against Northeastern on Wednesday and edged top-seeded UNC-Wilmington on Thursday. The Tigers reached the CAA championship round with a 20-13 win against William & Mary on Friday, setting the stage for the rematch on Saturday afternoon.
As the CAA champions, the Tigers receive an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Pitching on two days’ rest, Volpe needed 139 pitches to turn back the Tribe. He allowed two runs on seven hits with two walks and six strikeouts. He seemed to get better as the game went on and did not allow a hit after sixth inning. Volpe retired 11 of the last 12 hitters he faced.
“We never had any intention of relieving Mike Volpe,” said Towson coach Mike Gottlieb. “We were going to stick with him as long as we could. For him to throw a complete game on two days’ rest was very impressive. It was one of the most courageous efforts I’ve ever seen.”
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Volpe, who pitched the first complete game of his career, improved his record to 9-3 on the season. In two CAA Tournament games, he posted a 2-0 record with a 3.94 E.R.A. In 16 innings of work, he struck out 17 batters and walked only three.
“Fatigue was not a factor for me at all,” Volpe added. “After the first inning, I took something off my fast ball and tried not to do too much. After I walked a guy in the ninth inning, the defense turned another double play and that wrapped it up for us.”
While Volpe outdueled senior righthander Brett Koehler of William & Mary, junior designated hitter Kurt Wertz took care of the offense. Wertz, who batted .412 in the tournament with six runs batted in, led the Tigers’ 14-hit attack by going two-for-four with three RBI’s. He hit a solo homer and a vital two-run double in the ninth inning.
Volpe and Wertz were named to the CAA Championship all-tournament team along with senior catcher Andrew Parker and junior rightfielder Dominic Fratantuono. Parker batted .538 in the tournament with three doubles, two home runs and six RBI’s. Fratantuono hit .600 with a double, a triple, two home runs and seven RBI’s.
Third baseman Zach Fisher was named as the CAA Tournament’s Most Valuable Player. He batted .476 with a double, three home runs and 10 RBI’s.
The Tribe advanced to Game 10 with a 12-4 victory against Northeastern earlier on Saturday afternoon.
Wertz gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning when he smashed his 13th home run of the season, a solo shot, over the rightfield fence.
Facing Volpe, who was pitching on three days’ rest after earning a win over Northeastern in the first round, the Tribe tied the game in the bottom of the first inning. Senior centerfielder Ryan Brown led off with a double down the rightfield line. After Volpe retired the next two hitters, junior second baseman Ryan Lindemuth singled to left, tying the game at 1-1. It was his ninth hit of the tournament as he drove in his 12th run.
The game wasn’t tied very long. Leading off the second inning, Fratantuono launched a 2-2 pitch well over the rightfield fence for a solo homer to put the Tigers ahead, 2-1. With one out, Parker doubled off the left centerfield fence. However, he was retired trying to reach third base on ground ball to shortstop.
After allowing one hit in each of the next two innings, Volpe took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the fourth inning. However, Lindemuth opened the inning with a double down the left field line. After freshman catcher Ryan Hissey grounded out, freshman leftfielder Jonathan Sarty singled to centerfield as Lindemuth scored the tying run. Senior designated hitter Jackson Shaver drew a walk to put two runners on base with one out. But Volpe retired shortstop Ryan Williams on a force play and got rightfielder Derek Lowe to line out to junior centerfielder Brandon Gonnella.
With one out in the fifth inning, Gonnella reached base on a single to centerfield. He advanced to second base when Koehler made a throwing error trying to pick him off first base. After junior shortstop Hunter Bennett grounded out, Fisher singled to centerfield, giving Towson a 3-2 lead. However, the Tigers missed out on a chance for a big inning. Junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald followed Fisher’s hit with a double. After Koehler issued an intentional walk to Wertz, he retired sophomore leftfielder Peter Bowles on a line drive to centerfield.
Volpe retired the Tribe in order in the fifth and survived a leadoff single by Lindemuth in the sixth. He also retired the Tribe in order in the seventh inning, striking out two of three hitters. In the bottom of the eighth, Volpe set the Tribe down in order.
In the top of the ninth inning, the Tigers finally gave Volpe some breathing room. Gonnella led off with a single to right center. A sacrifice bunt by Bennett pushed Gonnella into scoring position. After Fisher struck out, Fitzgerald reached base on an infield single.
Then, Wertz belted a triple off the right field fence, driving in a pair of runs to give the Tigers a 5-2 lead. Bowles struck out to end the inning.
In the bottom of the ninth, Volpe retired the leadoff hitter, Hissey, on a ground ball to second base. After walking Sarty on a 3-2 pitch, he got Shaver to hit a ground ball to Bennett at shortstop. He fed the ball to Fitzgerald who fired to Butler at first base for the CAA championship-winning double play.
The Tigers’ 79th double play of the season, a mark that leads NCAA Division I, set off a wild celebration at the pitcher’s mound as Volpe was mobbed by his teammates.
“It was appropriate that we won the championship on a double play,” said Coach Gottlieb. “We have been a very good defensive team all season and we are strong up the middle. In Parker, we have one of the best defensive catchers in the country and Bennett and Fitzgerald have been amazing turning double plays. They work so well together.
“I wish I could tell you it was great coaching,” he added. “But these guys work hard on defense and it shows.”
The Tigers, who outhit the Tribe by a 14-7 margin, were led by Fratantuono, who had three hits. Fisher, Fitzgerald, Wertz and Gonnella added two hits each.
In the CAA Tournament, the Tigers batted .406 and scored 47 runs in four games. They had 12 doubles, four triples and 11 homers.
The Tigers will be making their third trip to the NCAA tournament -- and their first since 1991. In 1988 and 1991, Towson went to the NCAA regionals as champions of the now-defunct East Coast Conference.
“The CAA has such a great tradition of strong college baseball,” said Gottlieb. “It’s an honor to represent the CAA in the NCAA Tournament.”