Mansfield, CT --- Western New England senior Mike Lawlor (Windsor, CT) hurled five hitless innings and fanned a trio of batters to help lift the #5 Golden Bears to the championship game in a 6-4 win over top-seeded Wheaton in the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament hosted by Eastern Connecticut.
The Golden Bears (38-12) have run their streak to four straight elimination victories in the regional after they were handed a 10-3 setback to the Lyons on Thursday. No strangers to walking the tightrope, Western New England also earned the Commonwealth Coast Conference Championship title with a trifecta of victories after falling to Curry in the second round.
Wheaton (37-9) will vie for their fourth regional crown and first since the squad earned a trip to Grand Chute, Wisconsin in 2006.
Tomorrow's extra game marks the first time in 10 years that one has been played. Oddly enough, it was Eastern Connecticut who defeated the Lyons twice in Harwich in 2002 to advance to the College World Series.
Picking up from where they left off in this afternoon's 2-1 walk-off victory over third-seeded Trinity, Western New England put up a five-spot in the top of the second inning.
After junior Tim Clark (W. Springfield, MA) and classmate Taylor Perun (Plainville, CT) both reached in consecutive plate appearances, junior Kyle McKelvey (Schenectady, NY) drove in Clark with an RBI single.
The Golden Bears then loaded the bases and received run producing safeties by sophomore Steve Ambrosino (Laurel Hollow, NY) and junior Matt Anthonis (Guilford, CT) to open up their 5-0 advantage.
It was from there that the Lyons chipped away at the lead with four runs over the next three innings to get within a score.
In the bottom of the second, freshman Kevin Foley (Southbury, CT) chipped in with an RBI ground out and senior John Keating (Duxbury, MA) followed by driving in first-year Apolinar De la Cruz (Providence, RI).
Fourth-year Hal Landers (Salem, NH) and junior Eric Jensen (Gorham, NH) both plated runs in the fourth to make it a 5-4 game.
In a regional that has been dominated by strong pitching performances, the final five frames of the contest lived up to the hype as both bullpens battled it out until the end of the contest.
After Wheaton sophomore Mike MiGinnis (Mashpee, MA) retired his final man in the second, he would combine with junior Cory LaLiberte (Fall River, MA) for six scoreless frames.
MiGinnis set down seven of nine until he gave up double to Perun in the sixth and then LaLiberte got out of the jam and retired eight of nine before the contests final frame. Both were aided by a pair of double plays and they each punched out one batter while yielding no walks.
Lawlor was inserted into the contest in favor of junior Kevin Jefferis (Cheshire, CT) who gave up four earned runs on seven hits to go with one walk and a strikeout in the no decision.
With Western New England nursing the 5-4 margin, Lawlor allowed just four base-runners with walk in the fifth and he stranded a pair in scoring position in the sixth and seventh innings.
Wheaton's best chance was in the sixth when Keating reached base for the third time of the contest on an infield miscue and after he swiped second with two outs, he was stranded when Lawlor fanned his third batter.
In the ninth, the Lyons tacked on a much-needed insurance run on a solo blast to right field by senior Mike Taylor (Andover, MA) for his second dinger of the season.
Lawlor tossed two perfect frames to finish off the contest as he improved his record to 5-2.
McGinnis (4-1) was charged with the setback as he allowed five earned runs on seven hits to go with one walk and a punch out in his five-plus innings of work.
LaLiberte permitted the insurance homer to Clark in the ninth and yielded to senior David Longley (Brunswick, ME) who stranded a man at third in his stanza of work after issuing a base on balls to the first batter he faced.
The Golden Bears held the slight 9-7 edge in base-knocks. Western New England's multi-hitters included Anthonis and Clark while Wheaton was led by De la Cruz who was 2-for-4. No player scored more than one run.
After the first 14 games of the regional, Clark and Anthonis are at the top of the leader board in hits with 10 and nine, respectfully, and Clark is tied for first with six RBIs and is second with 12 total bases.
With a trio of steals, Wheaton is a perfect 10-for-10 on the base paths in the tournament while Landers and De la Cruz have combined for 11 safeties and eight runs driven in.
Story by Steven M. Miller, Jr.