SANFORD, Fla. – A run in the bottom of the ninth inning was the difference as the No. 24 nationally ranked Case Western Reserve University baseball team fell by a score of 4-3 to Washington University in St. Louis on Friday afternoon at Sanford Memorial Stadium.
Now 5-2 at the University Athletic Association Championship, the Spartans (10-3) will play first-place Emory University (Ga.) tomorrow, and a win would clinch at least a share of a second-straight Association title.
The Bears (4-7, 3-4 UAA) led 3-0 after five innings before CWRU scored one run each in the seventh, eighth and ninth. The game winner came with one out in the final frame when Zack Kessinger powered a bases-loaded RBI single to deep center field.
Senior starter John Fortunato (Toledo, Ohio/St. Francis de Sales) was effective on the mound while pitching on just three days rest. In a no-decision, the left-hander did not allow an earned run in eight frames. Through 26 innings this season, Fortunato is 2-0 with a 1.38 ERA.
The Spartans threatened in the top of the first inning, but Washington starter Stephen Bonser pitched around back-to-back singles to open the game. The score remained knotted at zero until the Bears struck for three runs after two outs had been recorded in the fifth. Two singles and two errors set the stage for a two-run double down the left field line by Chris Lowery.
The Spartans looked to answer right away with two runners on base in the top of the sixth but once again came up empty. In the seventh, senior outfielder Jordan Dague (Barberton, Ohio/Barberton) walked before freshman outfielder Aaron Cain (Hartville, Ohio/Archbishop Hoban) and junior designated hitter Will Meador (Columbus, Ohio/Worthington Kilbourne) were hit in successive plate appearances. With the bases load, freshman outfielder Josh Neal (Gaithersburg, Md./St. John's College) grounded into a fielder's choice against relief pitcher Max Zhang to bring home the first Spartan run. However, Zhang was able to induce a groundout to end the threat.
In the eighth, CWRU loaded the bases with no outs thanks to a single and a pair of Washington U. miscues. Sophomore first baseman Zack Tobias (Pittsburgh, Pa./Upper St. Clair) hit a drive to deep right to bring home junior second baseman Kerrigan Cain (Hartville, Ohio/Archbishop Hoban), but Zhang struck out the next two batters to end the inning.
The Spartans tied the score in the top of the ninth when junior third baseman Andrew Gronski (Hilliard, Ohio/Hilliard Davidson) punched a single through the left side of the infield to plate Meador. Two batters later though, a double play ball ended the Spartan threat.
Brad Margolin (1-1) was the winner on the mound for the Bears with a scoreless inning of relief. Kessinger finished 3-for-5 with a run and two RBI.
Sophomore pitcher Sam Altman (Atlanta, Ga./Riverwood International Charter School) suffered the loss out of the bullpen.
What amounts to be the UAA Championship game against Emory is scheduled to begin at 2:00 p.m. tomorrow. The Eagles have played one game less than CWRU to this point and will wrap-up the week against Brandeis University (Mass.) on Sunday.