TU Baseball Captures CAA Title
In a season that was filled with countless trials and tribulations, Towson played the role of the underdog once again and won its first ever Colonial Athletic Association Championship Saturday with a 5-2 win over William & Mary.
With the win, the Tigers (29-28) receive an automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. The 64-team field will be announced Monday on ESPNU.
“With everything that happened, it’s a feeling of establishing our worth, that the program is worth having, that maybe people made a mistake with the idea of permanently dropping baseball,” Head Coach Mike Gottlieb said. “We are competitive and maybe we are an asset to the university than a burden.”
The Tigers (29-28) relied on senior pitcher Mike Volpe, who pitched a complete game and allowed only two runs on seven hits against the Tribe (37-22). He only walked two batters and struck out six.
Volpe pitched Saturday’s game on just two days of rest. It was also the first complete game of his career.
“When people ask me five, 10 years from now about this team and what it took, I’ll tell them about a guy named Mike Volpe who for the first three years was just a role player,” Gottlieb said. “He had a real good regular season for us and then in the biggest game of his life, he had the best game of his life. That’s a pretty rare guy.”
Junior designated hitter Kurt Wertz provided the spark offensively for the Tigers. Wertz went 2-for-4 and drove in three runs, including a two-run RBI triple in the top of the ninth inning. Wertz also hit a home run in the first inning of the game, his 13th of the season.
For the tournament, Wertz batted .412 with six RBI. He, along with Volpe, senior catcher Andrew Parker and junior outfielder Dominic Fratantuono were all named to the CAA Championship All-Tournament team.
Parker batted .538 in the tournament, hit two home runs and drove in six runs. Fratantuono batted .600, hit two home runs and drove in seven runs.
“I told the team before we left last Monday I said, ‘We’re capable of winning this, so a number of people are going to have to step up.’ Guys like Wertz, Dom and Parker have been big-time guys for us this year, and Fisher,” Gottlieb said.
Gottlieb said players such as Kyle Paul stepped up and helped the team win. Paul earned a save in the Tigers’ 9-8 win over Northeastern in the first game of the CAA Tournament and then earned the win the next day against UNC Wilmington.
However, the tournament’s Most Valuable Player Award was awarded to graduate infielder Zach Fisher. Fisher batted .476, hit three home runs and drove in 10 runs.
“I mean it’s cool but all that matters is the championship,” Fisher said when asked what it meant to him to win MVP. “I’m glad that what I did to win that award helped us win the championship.”
Saturday’s Championship game got off to a fast-paced start.
After Wertz homered in the first inning, the Tribe tied the game at one as second baseman Ryan Lindemuth hit a RBI single to center field that drove in centerfielder Ryan Brown.
The Tigers wasted no time in responding, as Fratantuono led off the second inning with a solo home run of his own to give Towson a 2-1 advantage.
The score would remain the same until the bottom of the fourth inning when leftfielder Jonathan Sarty singled to left and drove in Lindemuth.
Once again, Towson wasted little time in recapturing the lead. In the top of the fifth inning, Fisher singled up the middle and drove in junior outfielder/pitcher Brandon Gonnella.
Volpe would shut out William & Mary the rest of the way and Wertz’s two-run triple in the ninth sealed the championship.
With one out in the bottom of the ninth, Volpe got designated hitter Jackson Shaver to ground out to junior shortstop Hunter Bennett, who threw the ball to junior second baseman Pat Fitzgerald who then threw it to sophomore first baseman Brendon Butler for the game-winning double play.
It was Towson’s 79th double play of the season, the most in NCAA Division I this season.
“It seemed fitting because of how many we were able to turn all year,” Bennett said of the game-winning play. “I couldn’t imagine a better way to win the conference championship.”
As a team, the Tigers batted .406 and scored 47 runs in the tournament. They had 12 doubles, four triples and 11 homers.
Towson will now prepare for its first NCAA Tournament appearance since 1991. Monday’s selection show is scheduled for noon.