GORHAM, Maine – Eight days after pitching the team's only nine-inning complete game of the season, Eastern Connecticut State University senior lefty Ron Buchetto (Clinton) prolonged the Warriors' season for at least one day by working into the eighth inning in a 4-1 victory over Keene State College in the second round of the 2017 double-elimination Little East Conference Baseball Tournament Thursday afternoon at the USM Baseball Stadium on the campus of the University of Southern Maine.
Fourth-seeded Eastern (21-15) faces No. 1 Southern Maine (28-10) in a third-round elimination game Friday at 12:30 p.m., guaranteeing that the LEC's two most successful programs will not meet in the tournament championship round for the fifth time. Both Eastern and Southern Maine were coming off first-round losses Wednesday, the Warriors by a 9-2 score to third-seeded Massachusetts Dartmouth and the Huskies by a 5-4 score to sixth-seeded Keene (15-22). Southern Maine stayed alive Thursday morning by eliminating No. 5 Rhode Island College, 8-4.
Buchetto (3-3), who threw 70 of his 100 pitches for strikes against Keene, gave up only six hits and a walk while hitting two batters before being lifted with two runners on and two out and Eastern leading, 4-1, in the seventh. Sophomore lefty Nick Rascati (Wallingford) got a ground ball to retire cleanup hitter Connor Walsh to close out the eighth, then pitched a 1-2-3 ninth for his fifth save.
At left: D.J. Scavone singled in a run on a 3-0 pitch with two out in the third inning to give Eastern a 4-0 lead.
The defending tournament champion Warriors managed only one hit over the final five innings but did their damage against starter Tim Coppinger (0-6) in the first three innings to defeat Keene for the second time in the last week.
Thursday, Eastern scored twice in the first and twice in the third before going quietly the rest of the way. Freshman leftfielder John Mesagno (Tappan, NY) and senior rightfielder Pat Sirois (Cromwell) singled and scored in the first, Sirois driving in Mesagno from second and sophomore DH Alex Parkos (Meriden) plating Sirois with a sacrifice fly to center.
Mesagno opened the third with a walk, moved to second on a wild pitch, to third on Sirois' ground ball to the right side, and came home on senior All-America Alex Zachary's (Enfield) ground ball to first. Parkos, junior third baseman Collin Russell (Sandwich, MA) and junior first baseman D.J. Scavone (Auburn, MA) then all singled, with Scavone driving in Parkos with the fourth run of the game when he drilled a 3-0 pitch on a line to right that spelled the end of Coppinger's afternoon.
With his third-inning single, Parkos has now reached safely in 22 straight games, while Zachary walked in the fifth and has now reached safely in 19 in a row.
Buchetto needed only 34 pitches to dispose of Keene through the first three innings, throwing 25 of them for strikes. He threw as many as 17 pitches in an inning only once, that coming in the fourth when he allowed a leadoff double and later hit a batter, but got a pair of strikeouts and an infield ground ball to Scavone to maintain the team's 4-0 lead.
Still in command of a four-run lead, Buchetto surrendered a leadoff home run to John Tarascio on the first pitch of the fifth, but again settled down to get a swinging strikeout, and a soft line drive to senior shortstop Christian Budzik (Cromwell) for the second out. Budzik then made a nice pickup on a ground ball and Scavone's stretch at first retired No. 9 hitter Tom Meucci by a half-step.
At right: Nick Rascati retired the final four batters to record his fifth save.
Unable to solve the deliveries of Keene righty reliever Nate Petersen, who allowed only one hit over the final 5 1/3 innings, Eastern clung to its 4-1 lead in the late innings. With one out in the eighth, Buchetto walked Mac Struthers on a 3-2 pitch, and after striking out Zach Rollins on three pitches for the second out, gave up a bleeder to right that signaled the call to Rascati. Facing cleanup hitter Connor Walsh – who had fanned twice against Buchetto – Rascati got a questionable (at least in Keenen's mind) called strike on a 2-1 pitch that evened the count, then induced a ground ball to Budzik that stranded both runners.
Buchetto's performance was a near carbon-copy of his 5-3 complete-game win over Wheaton College eight days ago. In that game, he gave up only four hits while walking one, hitting two and fanning eight and threw 83 of his 114 pitches for strikes. He needed just an hour and 51 minutes to defeat Wheaton and combined with Rascati Thursday for a game lasting only 1:59.
Eastern had warning-track power throughout the afternoon against Keene's two pitchers, with leftfielder Devin Springfield accounting for seven outs on fly balls. With Eastern leading 2-0, Scavone opened the second with a fly ball to the left field fence, and with one out and one on, Budzik sent Rollins in center to the base of the 388 foot sign. Mesagno also scorched a liner right at Rollins for the final out of the fourth. On well-struck drives which were caught in left, catcher Merlyn Herrera (La Yaquiza, DR) closed out the sixth and Budzik made the first out of the seventh, and Mesagno's liner to left ended the seventh.