Posted: June 3, 2006
CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – It was a heartbreaking end to an outstanding season as Evansville shortstop Robbie Minor drilled a two-out walk-off grand slam in the bottom of the ninth inning as the Purple Aces came from three runs down to defeat Lehigh 10-6 Saturday afternoon in the NCAA regional at Davenport Field at the UVa Baseball Stadium. The Mountain Hawks twice held three run leads, but were done in by a seventh run ninth inning as Lehigh’s season ends at 28-28. The Purple Aces improve to 41-21 and will play another elimination game on Sunday.
For the second straight day, Lehigh put two runs on the board in the top of the first inning. Sophomore centerfielder Joe Ercolano led off with a single to left field, advanced to second on a balk and then scored on a double to left center by senior Matt Geiger. An error by Evansville centerfielder Jim Viscomi advanced Geiger to third and then junior Matt McBride delivered a sacrifice fly to score Geiger and make it 2-0 Lehigh.
The Mountain Hawks added to their lead in the fourth inning with some textbook fundamental baseball. Senior Mike Sandonato led off with a double and then moved to third on a groundout by Geoff Campbell. The next batter, junior David Moscow laid down a perfect sacrifice squeeze bunt to score Sandonato and put the Brown and White up 3-0.
The Purple Aces finally got to Lehigh starter Joe Matteo in the fourth plating three runs. Evansville almost took the lead on a bases loaded double by Viscomi, but Ercolano got the ball in quickly to Sandonato, who gunned down Viscomi at third base before the go-ahead run could cross the plate.
Ercolano then gave LU the lead with his bat in the top of the seventh inning, drilling a Ben Norton offering over the right field wall, some 360 feet away, for a two-run home run to put Lehigh on top by a 5-3 score. The blast was Ercolano’s fifth of the season as the Mountain Hawks center fielder was 3-for-5 on the day with a pair of runs scored and two RBI. Geiger followed with a single and then McBride followed for a double. An error by left-fielder Kern Watts allowed Geiger to come all the way around to put Lehigh back up by three.
On the mound, Matteo gave Lehigh six solid innings, allowing three runs on six hits with four walks and two strikeouts. With a three-run lead, Lehigh head coach Sean Leary turned the game over to the freshmen in his bullpen.
Greg Mortka took the ball first and was outstanding for two innings, but ran out of gas in the ninth, giving up hits to three of the first four batters he faced. Next up was Leland Weisband, who faced three batters, allowing a hit, a walk and a hit batter. Watts delivered a single to center to make it a one-run game and an error by Ercolano allowed the tying run to score.
Evansville loaded the bases with just one out and Leary called on freshman closer Geoff Campbell. He struck out the Aces’ leading home run hitter, Pat Tumility, for the second out, bringing up Minor. Campbell fell behind 3-0 in the count, but battled back to 3-2 before Minor hit a payoff pitch into the left field seats to give the Purple Aces a walk-off win.
“Sure it stings, but Geoff (Campbell) challenged him and he hit a good pitch,” said Leary. “Give him (Minor) credit. That’s a pretty good team who has won over 40 games. A walk-off walk would have been worse. This hurts a lot right now, but we’ll learn from it.”
Weisband was credited with the loss and falls to 2-1 on the season. Matt Brinkmann (6-5) tossed two and a third innings of scoreless relief to earn the win.
The loss wraps-up one of the finest seasons in school history. Lehigh shared its second Patriot League title and won its first ever tournament crown, making its subsequent first ever NCAA regional appearance. The Mountain Hawks will lose seven seniors from a team that won 28 games in 2006, the second most in school history.