The University of Scranton baseball team came into Sunday needing one victory to secure its first-ever conference title. But top-seeded Catholic University had two much offensive punch, posting 21-7 and 10-7 victories over the Royals to claim the Landmark Conference title at Volpe Field.
Scranton finishes its season at 22-21, the team's fifth season with 20 or more victories in the past eight years. It's the Royals' sixth 20-win season under head coach Mike Bartoletti and their best season since 2015 when they finished 22-15.
Game 1 – Catholic 21, Scranton 7 – box score
This was much closer for most of the game than the final score indicates. Catholic (31-13) scored five times in the top of the first, but Scranton rallied quickly to close within 6-5 after three innings. It was 8-6 heading to the seventh, when the Cardinals got a run. They then broke it open with 11 runs in the top of the eighth.
Senior third baseman Patrick Mergel (Bethlehem, Pa./Bethlehem Catholic) had a two-run double for his 100th career hit and finished 2-for-3 with two RBIs and a run scored. Senior second baseman Brad Schneider (Ambler, Pa./LaSalle College H.S.) singled, doubled and scored a run, and senior shortstop Justin Howell (Millington, N.J./Watchung Hills) singled twice and drove in a run.
Game 2 – Catholic 10, Scranton 7 – box score
Catholic, which became the home team for the deciding game by way of winning the first game, again jumped ahead quickly, scoring twice in the bottom of the first.
But the Royals answered quickly with three in the top of the second on an RBI single by Mergel, and RBI double by senior right fielder Chase Standen (Newtown Square, Pa./St. Joseph's Prep) and a passed ball that scored Standen.
The Royals doubled their lead in the top of the fourth on an RBI double by senior center fielder Tommy Trotter (Cranford, N.J./Cranford).
But Catholic found its offense that was so potent late in the first game, scoring four times in the bottom of the fifth for a 6-4 lead, then adding a run in the sixth. Scranton fought back with Mergel's RBI single and a sac fly from junior first baseman Ian McIntosh (Newtown, Pa./LaSalle College H.S.) in the seventh to pull within 7-6.
The Cardinals, though, pushed across three runs in the bottom of the seventh to go ahead by four at 10-6. That led to the top of the eighth and a pivotal moment. The Royals loaded the bases for Mergel, who already had three hits on the day. He laced a two-strike pitch down the third base line that was originally ruled fair for a two-run double to cut the deficit to 10-8 and put runners on second and third. But after a protest from the Catholic manager and a conference by the four-man umpiring crew, the fair call was overturned and the ball was ruled foul.
Instead of cutting the lead to two with runners on second and third with Standen coming up, Mergel returned to the plate. After a wild pitch allowed Schneider to score, Mergel bounced out to end the threat with the Royals down 10-7. They were unable to mount a rally in the ninth as Catholic claimed the title.
Mergel finished the second game 3-for-5 with two RBIs, making him 5-for-10 with four RBIs and a run on the day. Schneider had two hits and two runs, finishing the four playoff games a combined 9-for-16 (.563) with three doubles, six runs, three RBIs and a stolen base.