Ryan Warner had no idea he’d get the pitching assignment Sunday afternoon in the most important game in Baruch College baseball history.
The New York City team had just lost to Husson University 8-2 in their morning contest, tying the best-of-three series and forcing a winner-take-all final game with an automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament at stake.
Warner, a fourth-year player for the City of New York Athletic Conference champions, had made just one previous pitching start in four appearances this spring for 14th-year head coach Jose Torres and the Bearcats, and his 6.59 earned run average entering the contest seemingly wouldn’t put him at the front of the line.
But the 5-foot-9 righthander from Massapequa, New York, rose to the challenge in championship fashion, scattering four hits and one run over five shutout innings on the mound as Baruch scored a 7-3 victory over Husson at the Winkin Sports Complex in Bangor.
“Honestly I wasn’t really sure that I was going to pitch at all today until about 20 minutes before the game,” Warner said. “I was sitting in the bleachers eating my salad and coach said, ‘So you want to start this second game?’ I said, ‘Hell, yeah, I didn’t drive nine hours for nothing.’”
Baruch (17-18) will learn who it will face in the opening round of its NCAA appearance Monday. Husson, the North Atlantic Conference tournament champion, ends its season at 27-16.
“We’re making history right now,” Warner said. “We’ve never had this chance for the CUNYAC division at all before. I don’t even know what to say about it. It’s an amazing feeling.”
Warner kept the Eagles off balance by spotting his fastball and mixing the heat with a steady barrage of off-speed deliveries. He struck out two batters and walked two while throwing 80 pitches, 51 for strikes before giving way to 6-foot-6 sophomore Matthew Lawlor, who survived a two-run Husson rally in the bottom of the seventh to finish the game.
“I know that it’s a game of failure and you’re not always going to have the best pitch at the right time and sometimes they might get a hit,” Warner said. “My key is to forget about what happened the at-bat before or the inning before and just focus on the present.”
Husson, which scored 11 runs on 19 hits while splitting the first two games of the series, struggled to string hits together against Warner and Lawlor. The Eagles managed just just five hits in their final game of the spring, paced by a triple, double and single from senior right fielder Conor Maguire, the NAC player of the year from Ellsworth.
Once Baruch reached Eagles’ starter Ryan Allender for three hits in the top of the second thanks to a leadoff triple by series MVP Conor McCabe, an RBI double by Jason Auerbach and run-producing singles from Kemal Deljanin and J.P. Ramirez, Husson was left to play from behind the rest of the way.
“It was almost the complete opposite of what we’ve been for the last couple of weeks,” said Husson coach Jason Harvey, whose team began the weekend riding a 10-game win streak.
“We’ve been pretty dominant on the mound the last couple of weeks but struggled a little bit this weekend throwing the ball. Offensively we left a ton of runners on base the whole weekend, and obviously it’s tough to win any game when you do that.”
Husson crept within 3-1 in the bottom of the fourth when Nolan Brown hit a leadoff triple and scored on Nick Guerrette’s groundout, but the Eagles couldn’t build on that glimmer of hope.
A two-run double by Emmanuel Taveras extended Baruch’s lead to 5-1 in the sixth, and RBI singles by Jorge Mercado and Deljanin made it 7-1 in the top of the seventh.
“They were solid,” said Harvey, who earlier in the day became Husson’s winningest baseball coach with his 284th career victory. “They’re a lot better than their record says. They’ve got some arms that are pretty decent, and offensively they’re scrappy. They had some huge hits, especially in the second game today that really got them over that hump.
“When you get to playoff baseball and playing for championships you need those things, and they did it.”
Husson 8, Baruch 2
Husson forced the winner-take-all final game in their NCAA play-in series against the Bearcats behind the pitching of freshman Brandon Brunell.
The right-hander from Lyndonville, Vermont, yielded no runs on three hits through the first six innings of Sunday’s opener.
Brunell improved his record to 5-0 by working around the plate as he struck out two batters and walked two while throwing 74 pitches, 51 for strikes as he lowered his ERA for the season to 0.96.
Husson went hitless until David LeBlanc singled through the shortstop hole to open the fourth inning against Baruch righthander Hassan Deljanin.
That sparked a five-run uprising by the Eagles that was boosted by two Baruch errors, RBI singles by Brown, Guerrette and Maguire and a bases-loaded hit by pitch to Luke Covey.
The Eagles added three runs in the seventh, with a leadoff single by Kobe Rogerson — extending his hitting streak to 14 games — an RBI double by LeBlanc and a sacrifice fly by Alex Chapman the key blows of the uprising.
Baruch 5, Husson 3
At Bangor on Saturday, Baruch scored four runs in the top of the fifth inning to erase an early 1-0 deficit and move on to a 5-3 victory in the first-game of the NAC-CUNYAC NCAA tournament play-in series.
Paul Sirakowski scattered 10 hits and didn’t allow an earned run over eight innings for the pitching win, while Jesse Colford allowed five earned runs on seven hits over five innings for Husson.
Baruch managed just five hits, including two singles from Nicholas Valerianio and a double from Angelo Alessandro.
Rogerson doubled and singled for Husson while Guerrette each singled twice and Chapman and Brandon Smith each doubled for the Eagles.