Blue Hens Fall to UNCW 5-3, University of Delaware Eliminated from CAA Baseball Championship
The No. 4 seed Blue Hens, who got a great pitching effort from senior Connor Hibbs (at left) and led 1-0 heading into the eighth inning, allowed the No. 3 Seahawks to score five runs in that inning and couldn't make up the difference despite scoring two runs in the bottom of the ninth and leaving two runners on base to end the game.
Delaware, which had advanced to the third day of the four-day, double-elimination tournament with a win over Northeastern Thursday night, ended the season with a record of 26-27. UNCW (30-26) survived and advanced to another elimination game Friday night vs. top-seed William & Mary.
Luke Alicknavitch (2-3) took the loss for the Blue Hens while UNCW starter Ryan Foster (2-3) was credited with the win.
“I am really proud of these guys,” said University of Delaware head coach Jim Sherman, whose team was making its third straight appearance in the CAA Tournament. “That is a really tough way to lose a baseball game, especially in the postseason. We had some chances at the end, but could not get the big hit we needed.”
The Blue Hens did not go quietly in the ninth. Delaware plated two runs on an RBI single by Alex Mottle and a fielder's choice groundout by Ryan Hartley and still had the bases loaded with no outs and the tying run in scoring position. Unfortunately, the Blue Hens were unable to get another key hit.
Pinch-hitter Doug Trimble struck out for the first out of the inning and Ty Warrington hit a fly ball that was not deep enough to score Mottle from third base. With the season on the line, junior co-captain Joe Giacchino stepped to the plate and flew out to left field to end the game and the Blue Hens’ season.
Giacchino, an All-CAA selection who entered the game batting .317, hit a leadoff home run in the first inning to give the Hens an early lead and Delaware stayed in control until the late innings.
The Blue Hens kept the Seahawks off the scoreboard for the first seven innings thanks to Hibbs, who like Brandon Hinkle the night before, gutted out a tremendous effort for the Blue Hens. The right-hander came into Friday’s contest with just one win on the season and an ERA above eight, but was able to shut down the Seahawks offense for much of the day. In just his fifth start of the season, Hibbs pitched 6.1 innings and allowed only four hits and did not give up a run.
The turning point of the game came in the eighth inning when a UD error opened the floodgates for a five-run inning for UNCW.
After UNCW tied the game 1-1 on Andy Austin’s team-leading third hit of the day, the Blue Hens looked like they were going to get out of the inning without further damage when Terence Connelly hit a routine groundball to second baseman Zach Lopes.
Lopes fielded the ball and tossed it to E.J. Stoltzfus to get the lead runner at second base, but the normally sure handed Stoltzfus dropped the ball and kept the inning alive as Austin crossed home for the Seahawks.
After Delaware brought in Dan Gatto in just his second relief appearance of the season, UNCW’s Corey Dick hit a two-run single to add to the Seahawk lead. Ryan LaGrange capped of UNCW’s scoring in the inning with an RBI single and the Seahawks had a 5-1 lead.
Delaware went down without a run in the eighth inning and UNCW was held scoreless in the top of the ninth. That set up the ninth inning for Delaware as the Hens fell just short in their comeback attempt.
Each team had eight hits for the game with Delaware's Hartley and Lopes each collecting two safeties each for the Blue Hens.
Sherman considered the season a tremendous success considering Delaware was picked to finish last in the CAA before the season.
“This was a really gritty team and one of my favorites at Delaware,” said Sherman, who finished out his 14th season as head coach of his alma mater. “We did not have the upper echelon of talent, but we found ways to win. When we needed a guy to step up like Hinkle last night and Hibbs today, they had their best moments in the most important moments.”