BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Moravian College baseball team celebrated two wild walk-off victories on Saturday at Gillespie Field to sweep the doubleheader against The Catholic University of America during their weekend Landmark Conference series.
The Greyhounds (9-4, 3-1 Landmark) mobbed junior left fielder Justin Pilchman after he crossed home plate for the winning run in a 3-2, 11-inning victory that ended on a Cardinals error. Moravian followed suit in Game 2, erasing a 5-1 deficit and scoring two in the bottom of the seventh to walk off with another win, 7-6. Junior second baseman Alex Longernecker notched the game-winning RBI on a well-placed safety squeeze bunt single that scored sophomore catcher Mike Roethke with one out.
"I've never been a part of a day like that," said head coach Paul Engelhardt, who admitted Catholic's miscues in the field aided the doubleheader sweep. "I'm sure the kids have never been a part of a day like that. We always say you can't give good teams extra base runners and extra outs. We took advantage of what they gave us. We kept competing and taking what we were given."
Senior closer Chris Soltys pitched 5.1 innings of two-hit ball in relief and was the winning pitcher in the extra-inning contest. The co-captain improved to 3-0 after striking out six and walking one while giving his offense the chance to finally win the game in the bottom of the 11th.
Moravian scored twice in the bottom of the fourth inning. Junior third baseman Ryan Luke led off with a single, and came all the way around to score on the Hounds' next at-bat thanks to junior right fielder Matt Hanson's RBI triple. Catholic got the two runs back in the fifth, and the score remained tied until the 11th frame.
With one out, Pilchman drew a walk to bring sophomore designated hitter Alex Bull to the plate. Bull put the ball in play, but Catholic missed the catch at first base and the ball crept far enough away to prompt Pilchman to turn on the burners. The junior only slowed down after he was greeted by a dugout full of ecstatic teammates to celebrate the Game 1 victory.
Senior Robert Solano started Game 1, going 5.2 innings and scattering five hits. One of his five strikeouts cemented the hurler as the 11th player in Moravian history to record 100 career punch outs.
"Rob pitched great," Engelhardt said. "If it wasn't for a misplay in the field, he may have gone the distance. He gave us a chance to win. Chris was unreal in relief. He really showed what it means to be a senior and understanding the situation. He's our closer, and this is the second time this season he went in for five-plus innings. Then he comes up to me in the second game and asks to go back in."
Longernecker had already made his mark in the second game of the twin bill on Saturday. The junior second baseman walked twice and scored twice as Moravian extinguished a 5-1 Cardinals lead. Catholic took a 6-5 lead in the top of the seventh, and after freshman pinch runner Anthony Gaetaniello scored the game-tying run all the way from first base on a Cardinal mishap on a Roethke sacrifice bunt, Longernecker was faced with a one-out, runners on first and third situation.
"I saw the infield was in, so my plan was to put something in the outfield with just one out," Longernecker said. "I gave a look to Coach E and he gave me the push bunt. I had to get the job done. I tried a push in Game 1, but they made a great play on it. I'd rather have this one work out, because it won the game."
Longernecker's bunt was a slow roller to the pitcher, who attempted a glove flip to throw Roethke out at home, but the sophomore catcher slid in for the second walk-off win of the day. The triumph came despite getting outhit 12-4 in the second game.
"We're feeling pretty good," Longernecker said. "These are our first couple of games in two weeks, and to get two walk-offs in front of our home fans on a Saturday afternoon; you can't beat that. It's good to get back out. We played well in Florida and that's carrying over to our play this weekend."
Engelhardt put the push bunt sign on for Longernecker knowing the junior would be confident in a pressure-packed moment.
"He's just a gamer," Engelhardt said. "He's done the job at second and has had some pretty big at-bats for us this season. He seems to capitalize on every opportunity he is given. I'm happy for all the kids. They kept playing the game and making the plays. We could have booted a couple balls, but they fought through a bad day, took what was given and took advantage. Good teams do that."
Catholic took a 2-0 lead in the top of the third inning, but Moravian stayed close in the bottom half. Luke laid down a sacrifice bunt to move the runners to second and third with one out, and Hanson recorded the RBI groundout.
The Cardinals' bats awoke in the fourth with five hits, including three in consecutive at-bats to take a 5-1 lead.
Moravian tied the game in the fifth inning with two hits, while getting a little help from four Cardinals errors. Longernecker scored on an error before sophomore first baseman Charles Savite smacked a two-run triple to the center field fence. Savite would score to tie the game at 5-5 after Roethke reached on a fielding error.
"We're jumping at the plate," Engelhardt said. "I thought we were coming out of it yesterday. When we needed one of our five hits in Game 2, we got them. I know we're a better hitting team then we showed yesterday and today. We need to regroup a little bit, but it's nice to get these wins in conference and against a good time like Catholic."
Catholic went ahead 6-5 in the seventh on a hit by pitch with the bases loaded. Senior relief pitcher came on to get the last out of the inning, which he did with a strikeout to earn his first victory of the season after Moravian's comeback in the seventh.
The Greyhounds finish their three-game series with Catholic on Sunday with a nine-inning game beginning at 11 a.m. at Gillespie Field.