BEVERLY, Mass. – A dog pile near the mound on North Field indicated the end of the 2014 Commonwealth Coast Conference (CCC) Championship and the Endicott baseball team, with a 5-3 victory over Western New England, secured the program's sixth conference title and second in-a-row behind stellar pitching from sophomore starter JJ Branch (Milford, Mass.) and senior reliever Tyler Hill (Las Vegas, Nev.).
Endicott (30-12) never took a loss in the double-elimination CCC Tournament, beating Wentworth, Salve Regina, and Western New England twice, and batted .393 as a team with a 2.50 ERA through the four games. Branch started two of those games (2-0) and worked a 2.63 ERA with just four earned runs allowed in 13 2/3 innings pitched. In Monday's CCC Championship game, Branch, the CCC Pitcher of the Year, came off two days rest after beating Wentworth in the playoff opener and pitched 6 2/3 solid innings, allowing two earned runs on seven hits and two walks with six strikeouts to improve to 8-1 on the year.
Hill came on in relief of Branch with two outs in the top of the seventh after Western New England (19-20-1) got a RBI single to left center by sophomore second baseman T.J. Wyrebek (Bristol, Conn.) off Branch to make it a 5-3 game. Hill forced a fielder's choice groundout to short to end the threat and proceeded to pitch a perfect eighth and ninth innings, including a game-ending called strike three to punch Endicott's ticket into the NCAA Division III Regional Tournament. Hill earned the save, his first of the season and the second of his career.
Over the first four innings of the game it was pitcher's duel between Branch and Golden Bears starter, senior righty Brendan Nugent (Milford, Conn.) who allowed just a fielder's choice RBI grounder by Gulls senior first baseman Brett Holmgren (Middleboro, Mass.) to score freshman Cam Farnham (Andover, Mass.) in the bottom of the first to make it 1-0. Farnham had reached on a single to left center to lead off the inning, extending his 14 games.
Both teams were held off the scoreboard until the top of the fifth as Western New England rallied for two runs to take a 2-1 lead. Branch struck out the first two batters in the fifth but finally gave up his first hit of the game as junior catcher Matt Anziano (Belchertown, Mass.) reached on a single. Sophomore Scott Hubener (Mendon, Mass.) dropped a bunt down the chalk of the third base line to put runners on first and second and sophomore shortstop Kevin Marciano (Pepperell, Mass.) with a RBI single up the middle to plate Anziano, tying the game at one. The next batter, Wyrebek, recorded the first of two RBI with a single to left to bring home Hubener to give Western New England the lead.
Endicott wasted no time with regaining the lead, however, by piecing together a four-run bottom of the fifth to storm past the Golden Bears to a 5-2 advantage. With one out, Farnham reached on an error and got into scoring position after a walk to junior second baseman Harry Oringer (Dartmouth, Mass.). Holmgren laced a single to center to score Farnham to knot the score at 2-2. Senior centerfielder Tad Gold, 0-2 at that point in the game, matched Farnham with hits in 14 straight games with a poke through the right side of the infield to Endicott on top with the Oringer run. With Holmgren on third, sophomore third baseman sent a deep fly to center for a sacrifice fly to make it 4-2 Endicott.
Now with two outs in the bottom in the fifth, Gold swiped second base for his 90th career-high theft and 24th of the season, one shy of his tying his single-season career-high from 2011. The next batter, senior designated hitter EJ Martinez (Brooklyn, Mass.) delivered Endicott's final run of the game with a single to right that brought Gold home from scoring position.
With a 5-3 lead, the Gulls defense helped Branch erase a leadoff double in the top of the sixth by junior first baseman Steve Buckley (Monroe, Conn.) as a groundball to second base led to an out at first and the throw home by Holmgren caught Buckley trying to score from third base. Branch would get the last out of the inning on a fly out to center to ward off the Golden Bears offense that inning.
The Golden Bears would tack on one final run in the top of the seventh of Branch before Hill came on to pitch 2 1/3 of scoreless relief to save the game and secure Endicott's CCC Championship run in 2014.
With 30 wins this season, Endicott has now achieved the mark in three of the past four seasons including a program-best 35 when the Blue and Green came one game from winning the NCAA Division III New England Regional Tournament and going to the College World Series.
On Monday, May 11th, Endicott will find out who join them in the NCAA Division III New England Regional bracket. The Gulls have competed in the NCAA postseason five times (2000, 2003-04, 2006, 2013) and have a 4-10 career record with their best performance coming in 2013 at 3-2 to reach the regional final.