Just one day short of a year to the day, STAC and Post squared off in a Friday rematch from last season's ECC Tourney. In that game, Noah Lorenzo outdueled Chris Cepeda for a 1-0 victory, and those hurlers faced each other once again. Unlike last season's tilt in which Lorenzo allowed just three hits in eight innings, the Spartans jumped on the left-hander quickly. With two out and nobody on in the top of the first, Giovanni Dingcong laced a ground-rule double to right and Anthony Shkrelja jumped on a 2-0 offering for a two-run homer, his ninth of the season.
STAC tacked on in the third when Nicholas Lucchese singled with one down and advanced to third on an errant pickoff attempt from Lorenzo, scoring on a Joseph Pena single to make the tally 3-0. Bobby Morse, whose 2-run double was the deciding blow in Thursday's 3-2 win over Bridgeport, hit the first pitch of the fourth inning deep to left, giving the Spartans a 4-0 edge with the round-tripper.
LIU Post chipped away with a solo run in the fourth when Dave Brehm singled and came around on Michael Manzione's double to make the score 4-1 and added another the following inning on a Brehm sac fly with the bases loaded and nobody out. Cepeda struck out Manzione for the second out, but Anthony Vaglica's hard shot was knocked down by Shkrelja at third, saving at least one run and preserving the 4-2 gap when Cepeda induced an inning-ending grounder.
St. Thomas Aquinas added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh with another two-out rally, beginning with an Anthony Maisano triple. Walks to Lucchese and Pena loaded the bases and Dingcong's apparent inning-ending grounder was thrown away by Pioneers shortstop Joe Spitaleri, opening a 6-2 gap on the unearned runs. The Spartans kept tacking on, adding what would prove to be a big pair of insurance runs in the visiting ninth.
With one out, reliever Mike Lazos put Maisano aboard with a hit by pitch, and Lucchese and Pena followed with back-to-back singles, bringing in Maisano. Shrkelja drove in another with a sacrifice fly and STAC was in the driver's seat with an 8-2 cushion entering the final frame. Cepeda yielded after six solid innings, giving way to closer Angelo Baez, who allowed just one hit over the next two innings. That all changed suddenly in what proved to be a tense ninth inning.
The Pioneers were down to their last out when Joe Piscatelli led off with a single but was erased on a Ramger Iglesias double-play ball, leaving two out with nobody on. Spitaleri extended the inning with a bunt single and control became an issue for Baez, as he hit Rob Andreoli with a pitch and walked Brehm to load the bases. Manzione jumped on a 1-0 offering, driving a grand slam deep to left, closing the margin to 8-6. Vaglica then squeezed an 0-2 grounder through the left side, putting the tying run at the plate. Zach Fritz provided the dramatic ending, driving one deep to right that was reeled in by Dingcong just in front of the fence to end the affair and send STAC back to the finals.
Cepeda improved to 7-3 with the victory, and Baez survived to earn his 11th save of the season, with Lorenzo falling to 5-3 with the loss. Lucchese had three hits and Shkrelja drove in three runs to lead the Spartans, while Manzione drove home five runs for LIU Post. With their advance in the Winner's bracket, St. Thomas Aquinas needs just one win on Saturday to win the program's fourth conference championship and first since 2015, while their opponent will need two victories to capture the crown.
Provided by the St. Thomas Aquinas Sports Information Department.