By Josh Belanger
Six different players hit home runs and Jared Dingus recorded a six-out save, escaping from a bases-loaded jam in the top of the eighth to lead the Night Owls to a 9-6 win over the Sliders in the inaugural NVCL championship game at Waters Field.
The Night Owls faced an early deficit for the third straight game after Tyler Casagrande (Arizona) put the Sliders ahead with a two-run home run in the first inning off starter Randy Prosperi (William & Mary). Prosperi would allow a third run on a bases loaded walk to Dominic Ragazzo (West Virginia) but avoided further damage with a ground out in the first.
Michael Grupe (Virginia Tech) made his sixth start of the summer for the Sliders and held the Night Owls scoreless in two of the first three innings. Lucas Donlon (Virginia Tech) started the long ball parade for the Night Owls with a solo shot to lead off the second. Carter Cunningham (East Carolina) followed with another solo homer later in the inning, his ninth of the season.
After the Sliders added three runs on RBI from Casagrande, Justin Ritz (Mary Washington) and Ben Williamson (William & Mary), the Night Owls answered with three runs of their own on a two-run shot from Rob Weissheier (Hofstra) and an RBI from Ethan Rothstein (James Madison). Weissheier was the league’s most dangerous hitter all season long, finishing with 15 home runs and 36 RBI with a .431 batting average in 20 games.
Yareb Martinez (Georgetown) and Austin Gauthier (Hofstra) both hit solo homers in the fifth to give the Night Owls a 7-6 lead. The home run from Gauthier was his fourth in as many games and the final pitch for Grupe, who was relieved by Braden Mack (Cornell). Mack allowed two runs on three hits with five strikeouts in 3.1 innings out of the bullpen.
“We have been down these whole playoffs and we never give up,” Martinez said. “Sal has made that our mentality. We don’t swing for the fences but we sure hit a lot of home runs.”
Reliever Danny Checkosky (Roanoke), who entered the game in the fourth for the Night Owls, allowed just two hits over four scoreless innings. After Checkosky hit the lead-off man in the eighth, Dingus (Potomac State) came on in relief and proceeded to allow a hit and a walk after a strikeout to load the bases. Facing the top of the Sliders’ lineup with the game on the line and one out, the right-hander retired Willamson on a line out and Casagrande on a ground ball to end the inning.
“Great players step up when they need to,” coach Sal Colangelo said. “It was a total team effort.”
The Night Owls picked up a couple of insurance runs in the bottom of the eighth on a two-run shot from Matt Thomas (William & Mary). The home run was the Night Owls 39th hit this summer.
Dingus came back out for the ninth and retired three of four batters to put the finishing touches on the Night Owls’ championship win. The Night Owls won eight straight games to close out an 18-2 season.
Photos of Lucas Donlon & Night Owls courtesy of Fred Ingham