Some things must be witnessed in order to be truly appreciated. But if you were unable to be at Volpe Field or in front of a computer screen on Sunday afternoon, we'll try to describe how The University of Scranton baseball team clinched a Landmark Conference playoff berth.
Senior third baseman Patrick Mergel (Bethlehem, Pa./Bethlehem Catholic) rocketed a walk-off single in the bottom of the 11th to give the Royals the most improbable of 11-10 victories to complete three-game sweep and clinch a spot in the postseason. Earlier in the afternoon, Scranton (17-16, 9-6 Landmark) completed a 15-8 win over the Greyhounds (18-19, 9-9 Landmark) in the completion of Saturday's suspended game.
With the win, the Royals can finish no worse than 9-9 in conference play, which would result in either a tie with Moravian for fourth at 9-9 or a three-way tie for fourth with both Moravian and Drew, all at 9-9. The Royals swept both teams, which gives them the tiebreaker in either scenario. Scranton can still finish as high as the no. 2 seed with a sweep of Susquehanna next week and a pair of Elizabethtown losses at Drew.
Mergel's game-winning hit short-hopped the fence in right center, driving home pinch runner Tim Gailor (Lancaster, Pa./Hempfield) from third and sending the Royals streaming out of the dugout to mob Mergel between first and second. It capped not one, but two stunning comebacks by Scranton, which returns to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
The Royals appeared destined to settle for two out of three in the series after Moravian took a 7-0 lead after the top of the fourth. The Greyhounds had all the momentum and their ace Rhett Jenkins and his sub-2.00 ERA on the hill. But Scranton put together the first rally in the bottom of the seventh, scoring six times off Jenkins to cut an 8-1 deficit to 8-7. The final three runs came off the bat of sophomore designated hitter Kevin Haag (Ossining, N.Y./Ossining/Bridgton Academy), who launched a three-run homer to right center.
Scranton tied it in the bottom of the eighth when senior center fielder Tommy Trotter (Cranford, N.J./Cranford) doubled in pinch runner Travis Adams (Clark, N.J./St. Joseph's-Metuchen). It was Trotter's fourth hit of the game, but it wasn't his last, nor his biggest. But we'll get to that in a moment.
After junior righty Bryan Carmon (Flemington, N.J./Hunterdon Central) stranded two Moravian runners in the top of the ninth – the second straight inning he worked out of a jam with two on – Scranton had a chance to win in the bottom half. But the Royals stranded Mergel on first to send the game into the 10th.
Moravian finally broke through against Carmon in the 10th, scoring twice. The Greyhounds still had the bases loaded with one out when Carmon made probably the biggest pitch of the game, jamming the Moravian hitter and getting a ground ball to third. Mergel fired home for one out, and senior catcher Kevin Nolan (Ossining, N.Y./Fordham Prep) relayed a dart to first to complete the double play and stop the uprising with Moravian ahead, 10-8.
Scranton made a quick first out to start the bottom half, but sophomore pinch hitter Brandon Peters (Peckville, Pa./Valley View) walked on four pitches. After a Moravian pitching change, Trotter came to the plate – remember what we eluded to earlier? – and promptly hammered the first good pitch he saw over the fence in left to tie the game at 10. It was his fifth hit of the game and seventh of the weekend.
The Royals weren't done as Nolan followed with a single and stole second. He moved to third when freshman left fielder Connor Harding (Vestal, N.Y./Vestal Central) flew out to deep center for the second out. But Moravian got out of the jam with a strikeout to send the game to the 11th.
Junior righty Matt McDonald (Clarks Summit, Pa./Abington Heights) took over on the mound for the Royals and was sharp, working around a one-out walk to keep the score tied heading into the bottom of the 11th. There, Haag led off with a slicing double to left and was replaced at second when Gailor came on to pinch run. He immediately moved to third on a wild pitch. Mergel then sent the Royals, friends and family home happy when he hammered a 2-2 pitch into the right-center gap to win it.
Trotter finished 5-for-6 with a double, homer, three RBIs and a run. Haag doubled, homer, drove in three and scored a run, and Mergel and junior first baseman Ian McIntosh (Newtown, Pa./LaSalle College H.S.) both singled and doubled.
Lost in the fireworks of the last five innings was a gutsy relief appearance from sophomore lefty Kyle Bravin (Washington Township, N.J./Westwood). He entered in the fourth inning with Moravian ahead 7-0 and proceeded to work 3 2/3 innings, allowing a run on two hits and two walks while striking out two. His work slowed the Greyhounds' offense and gave the Royals a chance that ultimately led to their rally in the seventh and eighth innings.
All of that took place after the Royals and Greyhounds played eight innings to complete Saturday's suspended game. Scranton held a 9-3 lead when the game was halted before the top of the second could start. When play resumed on Sunday, Moravian scored a run immediately, but the Royals posted four more in the bottom of the second with Nolan's two-run double providing the key blow.
Scranton's lead at that point was 13-4. Moravian closed within 13-7 after the top of the seventh, but the Royals scored a pair of insurance runs in the eighth to offset a run by the Greyhounds in the ninth for a 15-8 win.
Senior shortstop Justin Howell (Millington, N.J./Watchung Hills) finished the suspended game with three hits, three RBIs and two runs. Nolan had two hits, three RBIs and two runs. Haag singled, doubled, scored twice and drove in a run, and Harding had two hits and two RBIs.
Sophomore righty Bobby Hegarty (Wantagh, N.Y./Wantagh) returned to the hill after giving up three runs in the first inning on Saturday. He worked into seventh on Sunday and earned his third win of the season, finishing with 6 1/3 innings allowing seven runs, six earned, on 11 hits while striking out one.
Prior to the start of action on Sunday, The University of Scranton honored the 14 seniors on the baseball team as part of Senior Day ceremonies. Those seniors are infielder Seth Bower (Newtown Square, Pa./Marple Newtown), pitcher/infielder Anthony Caladie (Mountain Top, Pa./Crestwood), pitcher Michael Haag (Ossining, N.Y./Ossining/Bridgton Academy), outfielder Sean Haveron (Old Tappan, N.J./Northern Valley Regional), Howell, pitcher Jack Hurley (Ridgewood, N.J./Ridgewood), pitcher Brian Jenkins (Basking Ridge, N.J./Ridge), pitcher Brian Markowski (Mountain Top, Pa./Crestwood), Mergel, Nolan, infielder Michael Ratner (Langhorne, Pa./The Pennington School), infielder Brad Schneider (Ambler, Pa./LaSalle College H.S.), outfielder Chase Standen (Newtown Square, Pa./St. Joseph's Prep) and Trotter.
The Royals have a quick turnaround as they will host Lebanon Valley on Monday at 6 p.m. at Volpe Field.