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Westfield State Knocks Off #19 Ithaca to Open NCAA Tournament Play

Casey Boudreau knocks in Michael Cruz with a base hit in the NCAA Regional.
Casey Boudreau knocks in Michael Cruz with a base hit in the NCAA Regional.

UNION, N.J. --   Westfield State ace John Gegetskas worked seven strong inning and the Owls mustered just enough offense to get past #19 ranked Ithaca College, 4-2 in the opening game of the NCAA Division III Baseball Regional at Jim Hynes Field at Kean University on Friday afternoon.

"It wasn't pretty at times, but we found ways to get it done," said Westfield State head coach Nathan Bashaw.  "It was a good win for us."

With the win, Westfield will play in the winner's bracket game here at 3:30 tomorrow against host Kean, a 5-3 winner over Shenandoah (Va.) University, while with the loss, Ithaca drops into the elimination bracket and will play Shenendoah at noon tomorrow.

Tied at 2-2 in the top of the eighth singles from Colin Dunn and Aaron Clancy gave the Owls runners at first and second with one out, chasing Ithaca starter Emmett Dunn for relief ace Matt Eeil.   Nick Martin chopped a ball to short that looked like a double-play ball, but Martin hustled down the line to beat the throw, and Owls third-base coach Fred Perry aggressively wheeled Dunn around third to score and give the Owls a 3-2 lead.

"We've been preaching since January that we would win games on the base paths.  We've preached hard base-running and it worked out," said Dunn.  "I'm a graduating senior, I don't wanna join the real world any sooner than I have to.  Whether we're seniors like John and I, or freshman, take it all in and enjoy it, because the next game is never promised."

Anthony Crowley added a sacrifice fly later in the ninth to extend the lead to 4-2.

Gegetskas (7-3) worked seven innings, allowing five hits, and three walks while striking out eight.  Only one of the two runs was earned, and picked up his seventh win of the season.

Trevor Edwards relieved Gegetskas to start the bottom of the eighth, working a 1-2-3 inning capped by a called third strike to Bombers' senior outfielder Matt Carey.

Scott Strachan entered and worked a one-two-three ninth for his third save of the season, striking the final man out looking on a breaking to end the game.

Martin, Dunn and Michael Cruz each finished 2-4 at the plate.  

Westfield drew first blood with a single run in the top of the first.  Ithaca ace Emmitt Dunn did not appear sharp in the opening inning, hitting Owls' leadoff man Casey Boudreau with a pitch, then yielding one out base hit to Colin Dunn.  Both runners advanced on a passed ball, and Boudreau scored on Aaron Clancy's ground out to second base.  

Gegetskas breezed through the first two innings before the Bombers put two men abroad via the base hit in the third, but the big lefthander worked out of it with a fielders' choice to cut down the lead runner, and then got a weak ground ball to short that Dunn charged and fired across the diamond to assuage the Ithaca threat.

In the fifth, Westfield's Michael Cruz singled, stole second and then took third when the throw got away into centerfield. Boudreau made the Bombers pay with a solid single through the left side to plate Cruz for a 2-0 Owl lead.

Gegetskas delivered a shutdown inning in the bottom half, with a 1-2-3 inning punctuated by two strikeouts to end the inning.

Gegetskas met the heart of the Ithaca order in the sixth, retiring the Bombers' number two and three hitters to start the inning before Sam Little reached on a throwing error with two out. Ithaca's Buzz Shirley walked, but Gegetskas reached back for a fastball to fan Cam Fuoti on a 1-2 pitch to work out of the jam.

"The slider was working really well and I was able to get swings and misses, and I was able to spot the fastball pretty well," said Gegetskas.

Gegetskas was his own worst enemy in the seventh, as Ithaca loaded the bases with none out, getting the top two men aboard before Jack Lynch tried to sacrifice the runners over.  His bunt hopped to Gegetskas, who checked third before firing to first.  His high throw forced Colin Dunn to jump to make the play at first, and Lynch was aboard safely load the bases.  After strike out for the first out of the inning, Ithaca's Webb Little hit a squibber in front of the plate which Gegetskas fielded and tried to flip home for a force out, but the ball stuck in Gegetskas' glove, then he flipped over the head of catcher Jake Gibb and two runs scored.  Gegetskas induced an infield fly to second and another pop fly to Brett Dooley at third to get out of the inning with the score tied at 2-2.

"It was a little tough," said Gegetskas of the seventh inning. "I just tried to battle through it and make good pitches."

"That's kind of what he does," said Bashaw of Gegetskas' resiliency. "Working out of jams.  Some of it was self-inflicted but he found ways to minimize it. "

Westfield improves to 28-14 on the season with the win.  The Owls snapped a 12-game Ithaca win streak as the Bombers slip to 31-8 on the year.

Westfield put together 11 hits off of Emmett Dunn and Matt Eeil.

"We saw a great arm," said Colin Dunn. "That guy was the real deal, but we can swing it too, and just tried to stay back and see it long."

For Westfield, it is the first time that the Owls have picked up an NCAA Tournament win since 1981. Ironically, that season the Owls has lost their NCAA opener to Ithaca before defeating Queens College 8-4.  Westfield is making its 11th appearance in the NCAA Tournament, and second straight.

The start of the game was delayed about one hour by passing rain showers, but it turned into a nice afternoon for baseball with partly sunny skies and a light blowing from right field across to left.