By PAUL GOTHAM
BATAVIA, N.Y. — In the end it was a balance between long and small ball. The combination resulted in a title.
The Tribunes took two (12-3/14-10) from the Mercyhurst NE Saints to earn the 2015 Region III Division II championship in NJCAA action at Genesee Community College Saturday afternoon.
Trailing by five in game two, the Tribunes batted around in the third and trimmed the deficit to one.
“I knew my lineup was going to produce,” said Mastrodonato who benefited from his teammate’s offensive output. “I knew they were going to put up runs.”
“My God, he is one of the purest hitters I have seen in ten years,” Monroe head coach Dave Brust said of Diaz. “The bigger the situation, the better he is. He is just an outstanding hitter.”
With momentum shifted, the Tribunes sent 11 to the plate in the fourth and took a lead they never surrendered.
“We come out swinging no matter what inning it is, no matter what the score is,” LaCongo said. “We’re just hard-nosed ballplayers. We know how to get the job done.”
Diaz delivered, again, with an RBI single to right center scoring Hopkins to give Monroe its first lead of the second game.
“I got to do a job and sacrifice myself as an out or drive the ball to the middle like I did,” Diaz commented. “Just got him in.”
“We knew it was nine-inning game no matter what,” LaCongo stated. “They could have been up 15-0, and we still would have played nine innings.”
By the time the frame was finished, Monroe led 11-6.
With the lead and still on the mound, Mastrodonato settled in and retired 11 straight from the end of the fifth through the eighth.
“I knew they had a short bullpen,” Mastrodonato said of Mercyhurst. “I knew I was going the whole way. The whole time I knew I was going the whole way.
“It was more just bearing down and throwing more strikes, getting ahead in the count. They struggled. I had a lot of movement late in the game.”
The right-hander struck out eight and walked one for the win.
“There was a lot that went into that decision,” Brust said of sticking with his starter. “Ultimately it came down to Tom Mastrodonato is a bulldog. I’ve seen it. I knew that if we could hang around, keep chipping away in a nine-inning ballgame, that’s the guy I want out there. He found his groove. He did what he needed to do. That’s the right guy in the right place. He was going to grind. He was going to battle.”
Farrell allowed three runs (two earned) on eight hits in game one. The southpaw threw 114 pitches (69 for strikes), fanned six and walked none for the win. Mercyhurst stung him early. With Sabatino DiNardo aboard via a base hit, Michael Montalbano drilled a two-run shot over the right field fence to spot the Saints a second-inning edge.
“It was a good pitch,” Farrell said. “He made a good hit. That was probably two, three baseballs off the plate, and he just went with it.”
Farrell allowed four hits after the second inning. The Saints’ four and five hole hitters accounted for none. Farrell fanned both the next time through the order.
“They were hitting my fastball, so I just didn’t throw them fastballs,” Farrell explained. “I just busted them in. My defense did the rest.”
The Tribs quickly responded. Diaz and LaCongo drilled back-to-back solo shots in the home half of the inning.
“I saw Angel did it, and I had to match him,” LaCongo commented. “I was pumped up. I was so pumped up after I hit that.”
Monroe broke open the game with a six-run sixth and this time it was small ball.
“It’s definitely a source of pride within the team,” Brust said of the bunt. “Every guy knows it’s part of the code.”
LaCongo sparked the surge with a leadoff double. With the corners drawn to defend against the sacrifice, Brooks sent a ground ball to second and won a foot race to the bag.
Merrill pushed a bunt to down the first baseline and reached when the ball got under the first baseman’s glove. LaCongo scampered home and the Tribs were on their way.
Merrill burned Mercyhurst for two bunt singles and reached on an error on a third during a conference game in mid-April.
“I’ve bunted against them before obviously, and it’s worked out,” the sophomore infielder said. “Even if they are playing in I still know if I square it up right and get it right down the line, I still have a chance to do my job. It worked today.”
Ryan Prevost followed with another sacrifice bunt, and the Mercyhurst infield imploded as the throw to first sailed down the right field line when no one covered the bag. Two runs scored on the play, and Prevost ended up at third.
“That’s why we spend so much time on bunting in September and October,” Brust said. “We run off that. That’s something we want to take advantage of.”
Hopkins followed with an RBI bunt single. Diaz and LaCongo kept the hit parade moving, and MCC had a 12-3 lead.
“Bats never stopped,” Farrell stated.
Zach Vennaro came out of the bullpen to get three outs in the ninth inning of game two to secure the championship.
Diaz and LaCongo garnered Co-MVP honors.
Brust was named Region III Coach of the Year.
The title was the 24th in the history of MCC baseball.
With the win, Monroe advances to the East District Championship next weekend.