May 27, 2009

CARY, N.C. - Carlos Vazquez's first inning three-run homer put nationally 10th-ranked Belmont Abbey ahead to stay and Andrew Morton went the distance as the Crusaders defeated No. 6 Mesa State 9-2 in an elimination game at the 2009 NCAA Division II Baseball National Finals Wednesday at the USA Baseball National Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Morton struck out nine and walked only one. Andrew Martinez and Marty Rover had two hits apiece for Mesa State.

Belmont Abbey faces unbeaten Lynn Thursday at 7 p.m. in a semifinal round game. Mesa State, which defeated Belmont Abbey 7-2 Saturday in the tournament opener, is eliminated from the championship.

Just like in its first round game against Mesa State, Belmont Abbey (40-25) jumped out to a first inning lead. Tyler McKenzie drew a leadoff walk and Daniel Kassouf followed with a one-out single and McKenzie scored the game's first run on Spencer Sobol's single up the middle. After Mesa State pitcher Chris Shea struck out the next batter, Carlos Vasquez drove the first pitch over the left field fence for a three-run homer and a 4-0 Belmont Abbey lead. The home run was the third of the year for Vasquez.

Mesa State (44-15) got on the scoreboard in the top of the third as Marty Rover led off with a single and eventually scored on Andrew Martinez's two-out rbi-single to pull the Mavericks within 4-1.

In the bottom of the fourth, a call against Belmont Abbey ended up working in the Crusaders' favor and resulted in two more runs. Josh Frazier led off with a single and Patrick Atwell reached on a one-out infield single, bringing up McKenzie. After falling behind 1-2, McKenzie took an inside pitch and headed towards first holding his forearm. The home plate umpire waved McKenzie back to the batter's box, ruling that the pitch did not hit him.

McKenzie lined the next pitch to right field and wound up on third with a two-run triple after Mesa State right fielder Mike Provencher was unable to make a diving catch. But Provencher made amends on the next play, catching Vasquez's fly ball and throwing McKenzie out at the plate for an inning-ending double play.

Belmont Abbey extended the lead to 7-1 in the fifth as Daniel Kassouf narrowly missed his 30th home run of the season and settled for a leadoff double off the centerfield wall. Kassouf went on to score on Vasquez's two-out rbi-single.

Mesa State added a run in the top of the seventh on Rover's rbi-double down the right field line. Belmont Abbey loaded the bases with nobody out in the bottom of the seventh as Sobol singled, Danny Brion walked and Vasquez reached on a bunt single to the left side. Mesa State second baseman Kevin Becker threw Sobol out at the plate on a grounder to the right side and reliever Aaron Guinn - the fifth of five Maverick pitchers - struck out the next batter. But Atwell lined a single down the right field line to bring in two more runs and capped the scoring.

Morton (9-2) scattered seven hits, inducing a double play ball in the fourth and retiring the side in order in the second sixth and eighth innings. Mesa State had two runners on base in the ninth inning, but Kassouf made a leaping grab on a high hopper down the first base line and tagged the bag for the final out.

Vasquez was 3-for-4 with four runs batted in. Kassouf, Sobol and Atwell contributed two hits apiece in Belmont Abbey's 13-hit attack.

Wednesday's win assures Belmont Abbey of finishing in the top four. The Crusaders must beat Lynn twice to reach the championship game. If Belmont Abbey defeats Lynn Thursday, the two teams will meet again Friday in an elimination game.