MARIETTA, Ohio – Freshman centerfielder Aaron Cain (Hartville, Ohio/Archbishop Hoban) hit a walk-off RBI single to back 7 2/3 shutout innings of relief from junior Dan Sondag (Cary, N.C./Green Hope), and the No. 20 nationally ranked Case Western Reserve University baseball team earned a 3-2 walk-off win versus Widener University (Pa.) to advance to the championship round of the 2014 NCAA Mideast Regional at Don Schaly Stadium.
The second-seeded Spartans (34-11) break the school single-season record for wins, and for the second year in a row, will play in an NCAA Regional Championship. Tomorrow, the team must beat No. 7 Salisbury University (Md.) twice to advance to the Division III World Series. First pitch is set for 9:30 a.m. The third-seeded Sea Gulls (36-7) beat the Spartans on Saturday, 6-2.
"Nothing was easy," said Head Coach Matt Englander. "Widener makes you work…their arms are pretty good. They make you do everything right to beat them. Somehow we beat them without doing everything right. All year we've made baseball about toughness and being able to handle adversity. Our guys did a very good job with that."
Cain's third walk-off hit of the season came in the bottom of the 13th inning as junior third baseman Andrew Gronski (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) scored the winning run. Gronski led off the inning with a double down the left field line which set the school single-season record for hits (84) in a season.
Sondag (2-1), who entered in the top of the sixth, did not allow a run in his career-high 7 2/3 innings of work. Sondag surrendered just four hits and did not issue a walk while striking out one.
"Dan was about as good as somebody could be," Englander said. "He had to face some adversity with missed opportunities. He just went out there and was even keel and I thought that was spectacular."
Senior Ray Kelly (Rochester, N.Y./Aquinas Institute), the starting pitcher for the first time since March 17, 2012, allowed just one earned run in 5 1/3 innings while striking out five. The team leader with 17 appearances this season, Kelly started an NCAA Mideast Regional in Marietta during his freshman campaign (2011) as well.
Widener (33-13) starter Glenn Stanners battled his way through 9 2/3 innings in a no decision. Stanners allowed one earned run on five hits and five walks with four strikeouts.
The only run of the opening five innings was unearned as a Spartan fielding error allowed Widener's Michael Riverso to score with two outs in the top of the fourth. Two innings later, the Pride added to their advantage with a one-out RBI single courtesy of Matt Scherer. However, Sondag came out of the Spartan bullpen and pitched his team out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a pop out and a groundout.
"Early on in the year, coach kind of said during playoffs I'd have to throw more than just an inning at a time," said Sondag. "We prepared for something like this happening. The main thing I focused on was looking at each individual inning and give it my all."
The Spartans stranded two in scoring position in the sixth but kept the pressure on in the seventh. Cain was able to cut the deficit in half with a sacrifice fly, but Stanners was once again able to dance out of trouble to momentarily preserve the lead.
Sondag kept Widener off the board again in the eighth, and that set the stage for the Spartans to tie the score in the bottom of the frame. A bunt single from freshman leftfielder Antonio Damiano (Naples, Fla./Gulf Coast) and a single to left by senior shortstop Andrew Frey (Mentor, Ohio/Mentor) set up junior second baseman Kerrigan Cain (Hartville, Ohio/Archbishop Hoban) for a clutch, two-out RBI single to left center.
The ninth, 10th and 11th all went scoreless despite several runners in scoring position for each side. In the top of the 12th, Widener looked to have a go-ahead run when Bob Barnett sent a shot to deep right field. Senior rightfielder Jordan Dague (Barberton, Ohio/Barberton) then made the catch of his career falling down to keep the Pride's Paul Shepperd at second base.
After Gronski's lead-off double in the 13th, Kerrigan Cain followed with a sacrifice bunt. Widener then elected to walk the bases loaded and face Aaron Cain, who promptly shot a single right back up the middle.
"I've had a few of those at-bats earlier in the season," noted Aaron Cain. "He (pitcher) threw me a couple of curve balls, and he threw me another one, and I just hit it."
Last season, the Spartans faced an identical situation, needing to defeat the University of Wisconsin-Stevens Point twice in the NCAA Midwest Regional. Tomorrow's projected starter, senior John Fortunato (Toledo, Ohio/St. Francis de Sales), threw eight stellar innings against UWSP although the Spartans lost in game one, 1-0.