MANSFIELD, Conn. - In a game that was much closer than the final score indicates, the Plymouth State College baseball team suffered its first loss in the 1999 Little East Conference Tournament Friday night at the hands of the University of Southern Maine, 8-1.
PSC trailed 4-1 in the top of the eighth inning, but had the bases loaded with no one out and the heart of the batting order due up. But Southern Maine pitchers worked out of the jam without allowing a run, and added four runs in the bottom of the inning after the ejection of PSC head coach Dennis McManus.
The loss drops PSC to 20-17-1 overall, and sends the Panthers to an elimination game in the double-elimination tourney. Plymouth State will face top-seeded Eastern Connecticut Saturday at 12 noon. The defending LEC and NCAA champion Warriors (25-14) were knocked off in Friday's middle game by UMass Dartmouth, 5-4.
The Huskies took a 2-0 lead in the third inning when Shaun Richardson cracked a two-run double. USM added an unearned run in the fourth inning, but PSC got on the board in the seventh inning on a solo home run by Dakota Smith (Rochester, NH), his second of the tournament and fifth of the season. USM's Cory Adams drove in a run in the seventh inning, setting up the eighth inning theatrics.
The Panthers loaded the bases with no one out on consecutive singles by Jason Freeman (Manhasset, NY), Todd Steffanides (Fitchburg, MA) and Jim Freda (Windham, NH). But Smith struck out, Corey Mastin (Newmarket, NH) flew out to right, and Mike Bence (Warwick, RI) bounced out to third to leave the bases loaded. Between innings, home plate umpire Don January tossed McManus.
"The umpire was consistent all night, but he made one terrible call on a 1-1 pitch to Mastin that took the bat out of his hands and turned it into a defensive at bat," said McManus. "(USM starter Mark Russell) pitched a great game, but we started to get to him in that inning, and that stopped our rally."
PSC starter Jeff Morgan (Laconia, NH) was strong into the eighth, but tired and surrendered four runs in the bottom of the inning, including home runs to Peter L'Italien and Jason Dority.
"Jeff pitched a helluva game tonight until the eighth inning," said McManus. "They (USM) were sitting on fastball all night, and Jeff started to tire in the eighth inning."
Morgan went on to complete the game, but saw his record fall to 6-3.
If the Panthers can pull the upset over top-seeded ECSU Saturday at noon, they would play again at 7:00 p.m. against Southern Maine.
"Right now there are four teams with one loss," said McManus, "so somebody's going to make it to Sunday with one loss. It might as well be us. We've only used two pitchers, so we have plenty of arms ready."
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