|BASEBALL AMERICA REGIONAL COVERAGE|
CHAPEL HILL, N.C.—Towson and Florida Atlantic engaged in a tight pitcher’s duel for five innings at Boshamer Stadium. Then Towson started hitting like it was back in the Colonial Athletic Association tournament, instead of the NCAA tournament.
The Tigers hit .406 last week in winning the CAA tourney for the first time, and in the sixth inning of their regional opener their bats erupted again. They strung together five hits in the first six batters of the sixth inning, capped by a three-run homer by senior catcher Andrew Parker, en route to a 7-2 victory.
It’s another step forward for a program that was slated to be eliminated in March before getting a two-year reprieve from Maryland governor Martin O’Malley. The Tigers advance to the Saturday evening game to face the winner of the North Carolina-Canisius game.
“We had a couple of long balls, and Parker’s home run gave us a level of comfort at that point,” Towson coach Mike Gottlieb said. “When the ball went up, I was thrilled to death he just got it into the air to even get a sac fly, because he fell behind two strikes pretty quick. I think everyone on the bench thought it was going out. I thought we were just going to get a fly ball and a run, then I realized it landed in the next county.”
It’s the third victory in Towson’s NCAA postseason history and the first since its last regional trip, back in 1991. It came with seven strong innings by ace Mike Volpe, who earned two victories last week in the CAA tournament and was still strong Friday, mixing his pitching and locating his breaking ball well.
Brendan Butler homered in the eighth as the Tigers showed several ways to score. They got the game’s first run off losing pitcher Jeremy Strawn with its legs, as DH Kurt Wertz singled to lead off, stole second, moved to third on a two-out flyout and stole home on the back end of a double steal.
They used extra bases in the sixth to blow it open, Wertz and Dominic Fratantuono had doubles as the Tigers opened the inning with four straight hits. Then with one out, two runs already in and two on, Parker blasted a 2-2 pitch from reliever Kevin Alexander deep to left field for a three-run homer and 6-0 lead.
Volpe already was locked in at that point. He threw his fastball in the mid-80s but located it well along with his changeup and curveball. He allowed just four hits and walked two while striking out four to improve to 10-3, 3.36 overall.
“Towson and Mike Volpe pitched and played a fantastic ballgame,” Florida Atlantic coach John McCormack said. “We were told before we got here that they were an emotional team and they kind of feed off each other and they did a fantastic job doing that. And Mike (we’re on a first-name basis now), he did a fantastic job pitching.”
Volpe had to work out of a second-and-third jam in the third inning but then cruised through innings four through seven before tiring in the eighth. FAU rallied a bit after a leadoff walk, an error and a hit batsman to load the bases with no outs. But Parker picked Mark Nelson off at first base for the inning’s first out, which McCormack admitted deflated the Owls. They got two runs in the inning, but Nik Nowottnick got a groundout with two on for the final out to retire the side.
“Basically I just took a little bit off my fastball and concentrated on trying to keep the ball down and finishing my pitches,” Volpe said. “I just tried to take this game as another game and not make the stage any bigger than it had to be.”
It’s the biggest stage Towson has been on in more than 20 years. So far it looks right at home.