CARY, N.C. — Tim Flight didn't have his best stuff Saturday. But when you're the ace of your team's staff and you're pitching in the opening game of the Division II College World Series, that's not an excuse.
So Flight did what he had to do, working in and out of trouble during a gritty seven-inning, 131-pitch effort that lifted the Southern New Hampshire baseball team to a 3-2 victory against Minnesota State at the USA Baseball Training Complex.
The Penmen rewarded their Tino Martinez Award finalist by taking advantage of five Maverick errors and getting a clutch relief performance from closer Alex Powers to advance into the winner's bracket of the double-elimination national championship tournament. SNHU will play West Chester (Pa.) on Monday at 5 p.m.
“I'd say it wasn't necessarily my best day, but those are really when you find out what you're made of,” said Flight, a junior left-hander who improved to 9-1 this season. “I'm not really proud of how I did it, but we got the job done and that's all that matters.”
Doing what it takes to get the job done is rapidly becoming the Penmen's trademark during its first-ever appearance in the NCAA tournament.
On this occasion, it was a matter of Flight keeping his team close enough for his offense to rally from an early 2-0 deficit — even though the bats had plenty of help from a mistake-prone Minnesota State defense. All three SNHU runs were unearned.
The first came in the top of sixth when Jon Minucci scored on an error by the shortstop after an infield single and two walks. An inning later, the Penmen (44-13) took their first lead by scoring two more runs while getting only one ball out of the infield.
Kevin Spatkowski got the rally started with a single, then went to second on an error by Mavericks' first baseman Matt Odegaard. Designated hitter Andy Lalli tried to move the runners up, but when third baseman Patrick Dockendorf threw wildly to first, Spatkowski was able to come all the way around to score.
After Matt Boulter was thrown out at the plate on a botched double-steal attempt, Minucci drove home Lalli with a sacrifice fly to left.
“We had good at bats all day. We just ran into some bad luck a couple of times early,” second baseman Jamie Wollerman said. “But when we had the opportunity to take the lead, we took advantage of it.”
It looked for awhile that the lead might hold up long.
Flight finally ran out of gas in the eighth, when he hit leadoff man Ben Kincaid, then went 2-0 on the next hitter, Mike Eckhart. That prompted coach Scott Loiseau to make a pitching change. Things only got worse, though, when Powers allowed a single to Eckhard to put runners on first and third with no one out.
But Powers quickly righted himself, striking out Jeremy Sudbeck looking before inducing Connor McCallum to hit into an inning-ending double play highlighted by an acrobatic turn by Wollerman and a long stretch by first baseman Riley Palmer.
“That was a huge out,'' Wollerman said.
The final three were easier, as Powers struck out the side in the ninth to earn his eighth save and improve the Penmen's postseason mark to 5-1.
West Chester wins
Sophomore Joe Gunkel pitched a complete-game, one-hitter to lead 13th-ranked West Chester (Pa.) University to a 4-0 win over Chico State (Calif.) in opening round play of the NCAA Division II national baseball finals at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, N.C. Saturday.
West Chester (43-10) advanced to the winner's bracket and will face Southern New Hampshire University at 5 p.m. on Monday
Chico State (40-18) dropped into the loser's bracket and will play Minnesota-Mankato Monday at 1 p.m. in an elimination game.
Gunkel (9-1) carried a no-hitter into the ninth inning before left-handed pinch-hitter Abel Alcantar laced a single into center field on the first pitch.
West Chester scored first on an RBI single from Chris Pula in the bottom of the first inning that scored Mike Raimo. The Golden Rams added three more in the second on a two-run single through the left side by Raimo and a double by Jack Provine.
West Chester has won nine in a row and Gunkel recorded the team's fourth shutout of the postseason. Gunkel threw just 99 pitches and recorded 15 flyball outs.
Raimo finished the day 2-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Pula was 2-4 with an RBI.