WALTHAM, Mass. -- A hard-hit single up the middle by junior third baseman Nate Witkowski (Melrose/Malden Catholic HS) brought home senior catcher Kevin Korwek (Madison, Conn./Daniel Hand HS) with the winning run as Bentley University scored two in the ninth to top Southern New Hampshire University, 3-2, in the opening round of the Northeast-10 Conference baseball championships Tuesday at DeFelice Field.
The ninth-inning comeback from a 2-1 deficit propelled the Falcons into the double-elimination portion of the NE-10 Championships, which will begin Thursday at the University of New Haven.
With the season likely down to its final two outs, Bentley senior second baseman Logan Gillis (Merrimack, N.H./Lawrence Academy) drew a full-count walk to get things started for the Falcons. It was the only free pass issued by SNHU junior righty Junior Mendez (Patchogue, N.Y.) , who struck out 11 while limiting the Falcons to only four hits over the first eight innings.
A wild pitch sent Gillis to second, and Korwek reached when Penmen third baseman Riley Palmer (Goffstown, N.H.) booted a ground ball. Junior shortstop Will Brennan (Locust Valley, N.Y./ Locust Valley HS) hit a bloop to short right, just out of reach of the second baseman, and Gillis was able to race home with the tying run.
SNHU closer Alex Powers (Brewster) was brought in from the bullpen and he only faced one batter. Witkowski sent a 2-2 pitch back up the middle, with the ball kicking into right center after hitting the second base bag. The Penmen tried to make a plate at the plate on Korwek, but the throw was off the mark, keeping the Falcon season alive.
Mendez and Bentley senior righthy John Yohe (Merrick, N.Y./St. Dominic HS) were locked in a scoreless tie until the bottom of the sixth when the Falcons got on the board. Junior center fielder Sean Keady (Norwood/Norwood HS) beat out a high-chopper to third, took second on a balk and scored on Gillis' hard-hit single to left.
It stayed 1-0 until the eighth when SNHU struck for two. Senior first baseman Andy Lalli (Lakeville) singled to right, just out of the reach of Gillis. That would be it for Yohe, who threw only 74 pitches over seven-plus outstanding innings.
Senior right fielder Jon Minucci (Madison, Conn.), a former high school teammate of Korwek, greeted Bentley senior righty Lamarre Rey (Lynn/Pingree School) with a double to left center, putting runners on second and third with one out. Junior second baseman Jamie Wollerman (Hasbrouck Heights, N.J.) followed with a single to right, bringing in both pinch-runner Kyle McGinnity (Northboro) and Minucci for a 2-1 lead.
A throwing error on the play allowed Wollerman to reach third and a hit batter put runners on the corners. Gillis went home on a grounder to second to get Wollerman, and a Rey got out of the inning with a grounder to short.
SNHU threatened in the ninth, but another ground ball to short left the bases loaded.
Rey, who notched his fourth win of the season, gave up four hits and struck out two in his two innings of relief. Yohe scattered six hits over seven innings and struck out five.
Keady and Brennan each had two hits for Bentley while Southern New Hampshire's ten hits were distributed among ten different players.
Bentley improved to 27-20 following its third win of the year over the defending East Region championships while SNHU dipped to 33-17.
The Falcons, who advanced in the conference tournament for the first time since 2002, will face New Haven, the top seed out of the Southwest Division, on Thursday at a time to be announced.