The uncertainty of the current college baseball season was in evidence long before the first pitch was thrown, as COVID-19 became the determining factor for if and when teams would play.
But the pursuit of championships this spring after an idle 2020 has returned some normalcy for baseball leagues like the North Atlantic Conference, whose two top teams left the Winkin Complex in Bangor late Thursday afternoon uncertain for a different reason.
It’s down to one game to determine who will advance to the NCAA Division III Tournament after Husson University and SUNY Cobleskill split the first two games of their best-of-three championship series.
SUNY Cobleskill shook off an opening-game 5-2 loss to host Husson in dramatic fashion, scoring twice in the bottom of the ninth inning of the nightcap for a 3-2 victory.
That forces a winner-take-all game for the conference title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tourney at noon Friday.
“It’s baseball,” said Husson coach Chris Morris, whose program is attempting to advance to the NCAAs for the first time since 2011. “They’ve got a good club, they’re coached well and it will be another good game.”
Husson, the visiting team in the second game, took a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning. Nick Swift hit a one-out single, took second on a wild pitch and scored as shortstop Kobe Rogerson reached on an infield throwing error.
But SUNY Cobleskill had the final at-bat.
Nick Thomas greeted Husson closer Ryan Robb with an infield hit and advanced to third as Jayson Maxwell doubled. An intentional walk loaded the bases, but Rogerson couldn’t handle Frank Leger’s chopper toward the drawn-in infield and Thomas scored the tying run.
Maxwell scored on a wild pitch to end the game.
“It felt like we were hitting hard baseballs all game and weren’t finding any holes, and then the weak-contact ones found some holes and we had some luck at the end just to get us the win,” SUNY Cobleskill coach Lance Ratchford said.
SUNY Cobleskill (15-8) outhit Husson 8-6, but the Eagles stranded 10 baserunners as Fighting Tigers left-hander Devin Lewis allowed just one earned run while throwing 136 pitches over 8 1/3 innings.
Husson (21-7) also got strong efforts from starter Brandon Brunell (five hits, one earned run in five innings) and Jake Gregoire (three innings of two-hit, scoreless relief) before Robb was reached for two hits and one earned run in the ninth.
“We played good baseball all day against a good team. They put a couple of barrels into it,” Morris said. “Robbie’s been our guy all year, and he’ll be our guy again tomorrow. It’s just another day for us, another baseball game.”
Swift and Jackson Curtis each singled twice for Husson, while Thomas had two infield hits for SUNY Cobleskill.
In the opener, Husson senior left-hander Cam Graham (5-1) of Littleton scattered five hits over eight-plus innings on the mound and did not allow an earned run while striking out six and walking one.
Robb came on with no one out and a runner aboard in the top of the ninth and induced a foul-out and a game-ending 6-4-3 double play to earn the save.
Senior third baseman Chris Ewanik had the biggest of Husson’s eight hits, a two-run homer in the bottom of the fourth that enabled Husson to erase an early 2-0 deficit.
On the first pitch after David LeBlanc hit a leadoff single to left, Ewanik slammed his third home run of the season, a blast beyond the fence in right-center field.
Husson took the lead for good later in the inning as Brandon Smith singled, went to second on Ethan Stoddard’s sacrifice and scored on Tyler Parke’s two-out single to center to give the Eagles a 3-2 edge.
Parke also tripled and scored on Akira Warren’s sacrifice fly in the seventh to make it 4-2. Husson added another run in the eighth as LeBlanc singled, reached third on two SUNY Cobleskill errors and scored on a wild pitch by starter Jarrod Williams.
SUNY Cobleskill 100 100 000 — 2 5 5
Husson 000 300 11x — 5 8 5
Williams, Ladden (8) and Budzinski, Snyder (8); Graham, Robb (9) and Parke; WP: Graham (5-1); LP: Williams (2-2); Save: Robb (5)