Seniors come through in last game
An injury plagued and weather delay-filled season couldn’t stop Towson’s eight seniors from ending their careers the way they ended last season, as winners.
Despite posting just two wins all year in the Colonial Athletic Association, the Tigers matched their conference win total against rival Delaware over the weekend behind the play of their seniors — Greg Baruka, Hunter Bennett, Zach Fisher, Pat Fitzgerald, Dominic Fratantuono, Brandon Gonnella, Kyle Paul and Kurt Wertz.
In Paul’s final game of his career, he pitched a nine-inning shutout to lead Towson to a 7-0 win over Delaware on Saturday before the other seven seniors sealed the deal on Sunday with a 16-8 rout.
The special moment in Sunday’s win: Bennett’s final college at-bat, in which he hit a two-run home run.
“It’s pretty surreal. You can’t go out on anything better than that. It’s a great feeling,” Bennett said after the game.
“Hunter hitting that home run in his last at-bat was kind of like the topping on his four years for all of us,” Fratantuono said. “That was a memory I’ll definitely have for the rest of my life.”
While Bennett’s final home run capped off just a four-year run for the senior class, Head Coach Mike Gottlieb relates it to an event that happened 54 years ago in Boston.
“Hunter Bennett in his final at-bat, just like Ted Williams in his final at-bat, hits a home run,” Gottlieb said. “Then we pull him out in the middle of the next inning just like they did with Ted. In baseball allure, they’ll talk about Ted Williams and Hunter Bennett in the same breath.”
The six seniors who went to the plate Sunday combined for 13 of Towson’s 16 runs and eight of the team’s 14 RBIs. Baruka pitched the team to its final out in the ninth inning.
“You couldn’t end this year any better,” Fratantuono said. “I’m just glad we went out like we did today.”
And while Sunday’s win was a result of the offense for the seniors, Saturday’s win was behind a walk-on from New Jersey who pitched the best game of his career.
“It was really special [Saturday] watching Kyle Paul go nine innings with a complete game shutout,” Gottlieb said. “It sure doesn’t happen in the big leagues anymore. For him to do it, and he had never done it before, never come close to doing it before, in his final college game, that’s pretty good.”
As the eight seniors left John B. Schuerholz Park for the final time as winners, Gottlieb looked back to last season, when the team faced the brink of complete elimination and won the CAA Championship.
“Last year, they took us to the CAA Championship as a group,” he said. “Without any one of them, we don’t win it last year. It was a group effort. They led the way … and we hadn’t done it since ’91. For them to do it against the odds, what they did was special.
“Last year I told them, ‘In 15 years when you come back for an alumni game, the present team won’t appreciate or know what you guys did with the significance of what you guys did.’ It was unbelievable.”
Towson will now move forward without its seniors, but with plenty of potential still on the roster in players such as Peter Bowles, Brendan Butler and Brady Policelli, there remains reason for optimism.
“I’m not ready to make any proclamations,” Gottlieb said. “No year ever comes with a guarantee. We need guys to come back healthy. We had quite a few injuries. We need someone to step up on the mound. Hopefully a freshman or two steps up and some of the kids returning. For the most part, it’ll be a younger team than we’ve had in a while. This game doesn’t come with guarantees.”
But before the Tigers completely move on, they’ll continue to celebrate the careers of their seniors in the final weeks of the semester.
And as Bennett looked back on his four years, the only way to describe it was short and simple: “It was a blast. Best four years of my life.”