CARY, N.C. — Trailing by three runs and in need of a spark heading into the bottom of the sixth, West Chester baseball coach Mike LaRosa gathered his players in the dugout to deliver a message.
“I brought them in and just said, ‘Hey, they won the first half of the game. Let’s try and win the second half,’” LaRosa said. “And we did just that.”
The Golden Rams responded to their coach’s encouragement and got a run back almost immediately on a homer by first baseman Mike Ferrara before breaking the game open two innings later for a 7-3 victory against Southern New Hampshire in an NCAA Division II College World Series elimination game.
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West Chester (35-14) will try to continue its postseason run Wednesday when it plays North Greenville or Angelo State for a spot in the semifinals of the double-elimination national championship tournament.
The Rams lost a 3-1 decision to North Greenville on Sunday in their World Series opener.
Things weren’t going much better Tuesday as West Chester squandered several early opportunities through baserunning mistakes and untimely double plays.
Southern New Hampshire (46-12) took advantage, jumping out to a 3-0 lead on a solo home run in the fourth by Michael LaRocca and a two-run fifth highlighted by a Sam Henrie triple, two singles, and a sacrifice fly.
The Penmen carried that advantage into the sixth, when inspired by his coach’s speech and hoping to do something memorable on his own birthday, Ferrara gave West Chester the jolt of energy it needed by hitting a first-pitch fastball over the wall in left-center field.
“It definitely felt good to lift the zero off the scoreboard,” Ferrara said. “I was just trying to get on base, but it worked out. I told the guys before the game we can’t lose on my birthday, so we’re 1-0 today.”
West Chester picked up another run in the bottom of the seventh on a bases-loaded walk to Justin Horn.
It turned out to be the first of many gifts provided by the Southern New Hampshire pitching staff.
Three Penmen combined to hit five batters with pitches during a game-changing eighth-inning rally. They also uncorked a wild pitch that allowed a run to score.
The only hit of the five-run outburst came off the bat of nine-hole hitter Zack Miles. It was a hard-hit single to right on the first pitch thrown by reliever Conner Wagstaff that drove in Luke Cantwell and Sean Szestowicki for the go-ahead runs.
“I knew it was bases loaded, and he didn’t want to spike a curveball, so I just sat dead red fastball and tried to get the barrel on it,” said Miles, who also drove in the tying and winning runs in West Chester’s super regional clincher against East Stroudsburg last week.
“I just think I want to turn the order over as a nine hitter and get to [the top of the order] because they’ve been driving the ball all season.”
The Rams came out of the inning with a four-run advantage, and, for a few nervous moments in the top of the ninth, it appeared as if they might need the cushion when Southern New Hampshire loaded the bases with no outs on an error and a pair of walks. But senior left-hander Evan Snyder came out of the bullpen to end the threat by striking out the first two hitters he faced, then inducing a game-ending flyout to right from Ricky Jimenez.
“We made it interesting in the ninth,” LaRosa said. “We do that a lot. But then Evan Snyder came in and did just an incredible job.”