Catholic Stuns Top-Seeded Kean, 3-2

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LAKEWOOD, N.J. (5/18/11) – Catholic University senior right-hander Ron Esposito struck out seven and earned the complete game victory, as the Cardinals stunned top-seeded Kean University, 3-2, in the opening round of the NCAA Mid-Atlantic Regional on Wednesday evening.

The eighth-seeded Cardinals (23-19) plated two runs in the top of the eighth inning to upset the third-ranked Cougars (36-9) in a game that was delayed more than six hours due to heavy rain, as Catholic won its first Division III playoff game in just its second appearance in the NCAA tournament. 

Catholic advances to face #4 Misericordia University, a 3-2 winner over #5 Messiah College, on Thursday evening, while the Cougars take on the Falcons earlier in the day in an elimination game. 

Kean took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning when junior Vinny Galya led off with an infield single, stole second and third bases and scored on the throwing error on the latter for the unearned run. 

The Cougars threatened two innings later with a pair of runners in scoring position after freshman shortstop Tyler Smarslok doubled down the left line, advanced to third on the single by Galya and Galya moved into scoring position with his third steal of the game.  However, Esposito recorded the strikeout and got a fly-out to centerfield to get out of the inning unscathed.

Catholic, who only managed two base-runners and one hit through the first five innings off of Kean starter Chris Cirlincione, tied the game in the sixth inning.  Catcher Mark Kalokitis and second baseman Tim Mierzwa opened the inning with back-to-back singles, before the Cardinals loaded the bases with a walk to leadoff batter LJ Travaglia.  Cirlincione would force the groundout for the double play one batter later, however Kalokitis scored to tie the game at 1-1.-

In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Cougars regained the lead on the RBI groundout by Galya, scoring third baseman Stephen Nappe, who led off with a single and advanced to third on back-to-back bunts by junior Eddie Jennings and Smarslok. 

The Cardinals answered right back in the top of the eighth inning, as they loaded the bases following a lead-off double by left fielder Brendan Breslin, Kalokitis being hit by a pitch and an infield single by Mierzwa.  Travaglia earned the bases loaded walk to score Breslin and tie the game and after reliever Greg Baruka struck out the next two batters, centerfielder Matt Grieb was hit by a pitch to score Kalokitis with the go-ahead run. 

With two outs in the bottom of the eighth inning, the Cougars managed a pair of base-runners with a walk to junior Dylan Laguna and an inning-extending error that allowed senior Nick Nolan to reach, however Esposito ended the inning with his seventh strikeout of the game before retiring the Cougars in order in the bottom of the ninth inning to seal the victory.

Esposito improved to 8-2 this season, allowing just six hits and one earned run.  Breslin was 2-of-4 with one run scored, while Kalokitis was 1-of-3 with two runs scored. 

For the Cougars, Galya was 2-of-5 with one RBI, one run scored and three stolen bases, as he tied the single season record with 30 stolen bases.  Jennings finished 2-of-4 for Kean.

Cirlincione (6-1) suffered his first loss of the season, scattering five hits and allowing three runs, while striking out five batters.