New Hampshire Hardball

Molloy 6, Franklin Pierce 4

UNIONDALE, N.Y. – When an NCAA baseball regional is pushed to its limit, the story is often written on the mound, with neither team having an easy route to 27 outs. Sunday was no different, as the sixth-seeded Franklin Pierce University baseball team locked horns with second seed, host and No. 20/23 nationally-ranked Molloy in the decisive game of the NCAA Championship East Regional.

In the end, Molloy — which came through the winners’ bracket — had just a few more bullets left in the chamber, and posted a 6-4 victory over the Ravens, to advance to next week’s Super Regional.

With the loss, Franklin Pierce sees its season, and its 17th all-time NCAA Championship appearance, come to a close at 31-17, though the Ravens advanced farther in the national tournament than they had at any point since claiming the regional title in 2016. With the win, Molloy improves to 39-13 and extends its program-record season. The Lions have a Super Regional date on the road at top seed Southern New Hampshire for a best-of-three series next Friday and Saturday.

Though the offenses combined for 10 runs, the focus was on the mound all afternoon. Molloy’s fourth starter, graduate student right-hander Brian Morrisey (2-1), who entered the game with an ERA north of 5.00, posted one of his top two starts of the season. He went six innings on 71 pitches (52 strikes), allowed three runs (two earned) on six hits, hit one batter and struck out four.

Later, the Lions brought back their ace, junior Charlie Cucchiara, on just two days of rest after an eight-inning, 114-pitch start in Thursday’s regional opener. The right-hander inherited a pair of runners with no outs in the eighth, stranded them both and then left a runner on base in the ninth as well, to nail down his first save of the season.

On the other side of the ledger, it was a full staff effort for the Ravens to grind through the afternoon. Seven pitchers combined to yield six runs (five earned) despite surrendering 16 hits. Among the highlights was 2.2 scoreless innings from sophomore right-hander James Draughn (Framingham, Mass.) in his second appearance of the tournament.

The hypothetical award for grittiest effort was reserved for sophomore Kyle Roche (Braintree, Mass.), however. The right-hander fired 104 pitches over six innings in Thursday’s regional opener. Then, he came back to throw the first inning as an opener in Saturday’s second elimination game. Still, Roche put himself on the board for Sunday’s finale and threw the final two innings. He surrendered one run, but also struck out two, and did enough to keep the Ravens in the game late, though the offense was unable to solve Cucchiara.

Franklin Pierce jumped out front 2-1 in the first inning, but Molloy took the lead for good, with a trio of runs in the top of the fourth against senior right-hander Jake Ursillo (North Haledon, N.J.), who was making his third multi-inning relief outing in four days. After a lead-off single, it was back-to-back RBI doubles which did two-thirds of the damage: the first a ground-rule double down the left-field line by senior Patrick Hoffman, and the second a shot into the gap in right-center by sophomore Chris Einemann, which spelled the end of the day for Ursillo (6-4). Graduate student Peter Theodorellis later capped the inning with a run-scoring single back through the middle of the infield against Draughn.

Franklin Pierce got one back in the bottom of the fifth, when junior Joel Lara (Boston, Mass.) socked his second home run of the tournament, and sixth of the season, to left field.

An unearned run for Molloy in the top of the seventh would prove costly. Graduate student Matt Overton led off with a single through the right side and, two batters later, junior David Franchi ripped a ball down the right-field line. In his haste to cut the ball off in the corner, junior Graham Smith (Wilmington, Mass.) booted it instead, which allowed Overton to score from first.

Franklin Pierce got one back in the last of the seventh, as Lara walked, stole second, advanced on a groundout, and scored on an RBI groundout by Smith, but would get no closer. The Ravens were left to rue missed opportunities in the sixth and eighth innings, as they put two runners on with nobody out in each frame, but failed to score on both occasions. Molloy tacked on an insurance run in the ninth to create the 6-4 final.


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