WALTHAM, Mass. – After the Bentley University Falcons scored three runs in the bottom of the ninth to draw within one, Merrimack College junior first baseman Thomas Joyce snared a line drive for the final out and a 6-5 win over the second-seeded Falcons in the opening round of the Northeast-10 Conference baseball championships Tuesday afternoon at DeFelice Field.
Bentley, which had a seven-game winning streak snapped, finished the season at 21-21. Meanwhile, third-seeded Merrimack (26-18) will advance to the double-elimination portion of the championships, beginning Thursday.
The Falcons entered their final at bat looking at a 6-2 deficit after Merrimack had taken control with a four-run sixth inning. Senior right fielder Gino Fordiani (Sudbury/Lincoln-Sudbury Reg. HS) opened the ninth with a single to right, driving Merrimack starter and Bentley nemesis Cam Monagle (Cambridge) from the game.
After reliever Trevor Cooley (Randolph) retired the first two batters he faced and with Fordiani on second after a wild pitch, junior center fielder Max Troiani (Pittsford, N.Y./Pittsford Mendon HS) grounded to short. The ball was misplayed, allowing Fordiani to score and Troiani to take his place on second. Junior third baseman Jake Pierce (East Bridgewater/East Bridgewater HS) doubled down the left field line, driving in Troiani to make it a two-run game.
That gave graduate second baseman Mike Samko (Arlington/BB&N) another chance to reach the 200 career hit mark and his time he reached the milestone, in which proved to be his final career at bat. Samko, 0-for-4 at the time, singled to center on an 0-2 pitch to not only score Pierce with the Falcons' fifth run but to become the seventh player in program history to reach 200.
Junior first baseman Ryan Berardino (Sudbury/Lincoln-Sudbury Reg. HS) followed and lined the second pitch he saw right down the line. But the likely game-tying double was pulled in by Joyce for the game's final out.
It was the fourth win of the season over Bentley for Monagle, all coming on DeFelice Field. He allowed nine hits and walked one while striking out four. He pitched 34 innings against the Falcons this season and allowed only five runs.
The Merrimack offense featured freshman left fielder Michael Golankiewicz (Hillsborough, N.J.), who finished with two hits, a sacrifice fly and four RBI. He tied the game at 1-1 with a third-inning single, tied it at 2-2 with a fifth-inning sacrifice fly and made it 6-2 with a sixth-inning two-run single. The 2-2 deadlock was broken earlier in the inning by a two-run homer from junior third baseman Joey Porricelli (Monroe, Conn.).
Bentley started fast with Berardino's RBI single plating Troiani in the first. Three innings later, sophomore shortstop Kyle Halloran (Hopkinton/Hopkinton HS/Worcester Academy) singled to left center, with Fordiani scoring to give the lead back to the Falcons.
Pierce finished the day with three hits for Bentley and both Fordiani and Halloran had two.
It was the third straight year that Bentley's season closed with a one-run loss in the first round of the NE10 Championships.