Cortland falls just short in quest for fourth straight NCAA World Series berth

Paul Dondero hits a solo homer during the third inning of Cortland’s 7-6 win vs. W&J. The Red Dragons fell, 6-3, in the regional championship game (Martin Santek Photography)

ASHINGTON, PA. – Cortland’s bid for a fourth straight NCAA DIvision III World Series appearance came up just short as the nationally fourth-ranked Red Dragons lost at 16th-ranked Washington & Jefferson College, 6-3, in the championship game of the NCAA Mideast Regional. Cortland forced a winner-take-all title game with its come-from-behind 7-6 win over the Presidents earlier Monday afternoon.

Cortland closes the season 38-9 and finishes tied for ninth nationally in the NCAA tournament. The Red Dragons were making their 25th consecutive NCAA appearance – the longest active streak nationally in Division III. Washington & Jefferson (38-11) will be making its first World Series appearance.

Three Cortland players – seniors Steven Figueroa (Bronx/St. Raymond’s) and Tyler Phillips (Hancock) and sophomore Jake Casey (Homer) – were named to the all-tournament team. Figueroa batted .414 (12-for-29) with two homers, two triples, a double, nine runs, 11 RBI, four walks and two hit-by-pitch in seven games. Phillips batted .440 (11-for-25) with three homers, three doubles, 14 RBI, four runs, three walks and three sacrifices. Casey threw a two-hit shutout with 12 strikeouts in a 5-0 win over Earlham Saturday.

Nick Vento of W&J was named the regional’s Most Outstanding Player, and was joined on the all-tournament team by teammates Adam LaRue, Mark Merlino and Riley Groves. Groves won two games, including a complete game in the championship game. Also on the all-tournament team were Eric Elkus (Earlham), Grant Rademacher (DePauw), Austin Chaszar (Keystone) and Miguel Reyes (Keystone).

Cortland 7, Wash. & Jeff. 6

Cortland trailed 3-0 early before rallying to tie the game in the fifth, but the Red Dragons were still down 6-4 entering the top of the eighth inning before scoring three times to take the lead for good. The winning rally started with a two-out Marcos Perivolaris (Mattituck) infield single and a Nate Budge (Central Square/Paul V. Moore) hit-by-pitch.

Paul Dondero (East Islip) followed with a grounder that got through the third baseman for an error that allowed both runners to score. Dondero went to third on a wild pitch and Figueroa was intentionally walked. Another wild pitch allowed Figueroa to go to second, and Phillips reached on a throwing error that allowed Dondero to score. Figueroa also tried to score on the play but was thrown out at the plate.

Billy Goncalves (Manorville/Eastport-South Manor) entered in the bottom of the eighth and allowed one hit over two scoreless innings for his second save of the season. Patrick Merryweather (Baldwinsville/C.W. Baker) started on three days rest and allowed six hits and four runs, three earned, in five and two thirds innings. He struck out six and walked two. Jesse Winters (South Glens Falls/Saratoga Central Catholic) earned the win in relief after giving up two hits and two runs with one stirkeout in an inning and a third.

W&J took a 3-0 lead in the second on a Dante Dalesandro two-run single and a LaRue RBI bunt single. Dondero hit a solo homer in the third to put Cortland on the board, and the Red Dragons tied it in the fifth on a Figueroa single, with an error on the play allowing a run to score, followed by a Phillips RBI double.

The Presidents regained the lead briefly in the fifth on a Derek Helbing single, a passed ball, a wild pitch, and an error on short flair in front of the second baseman. Cortland tied the game in the top of the sixth on a Colin BeVard (Syracuse/West Genesee) RBI groundout to the pitcher after Patrick Schetter (Beacon) and Matthew Personius (Binghamton/Chenango Valley) led off with singles and Perivolaris singled with one out. Merlino’s two-run homer in the bottom of the seventh gave W&J a 6-4 lead before Cortland rallied in the eighth.

Perivolaris and Personius each finished with two hits for Cortland, while Vento and Kevin Begley had two hits apiece for W&J. Trevor Kerr started for the hosts and gave up three runs, two earned, in five innings. Will Bowser, the team’s second reliever, took the loss as he was charged with the three unearned runs in the eighth.

Wash. & Jeff. 6, Cortland 3 (Championship Game)

Groves, on three days’ rest, allowed eight hits and three runs, one earned, for the title-game win. He struck out five and walked two and improved to 10-2 on the season.

In a reversal of Game 1, Cortland took an early 3-0 lead before being caught by the Presidents. Budge, who finished 2-for-4, hit a two-run single in the second and an RBI double in the fourth, both with two outs. Personius, who ended 2-for-3 with a walk, started the second-inning rally with a leadoff single, took second on a one-out error and went to third on a groundout before the Budge two-run single. Dondero walked with two outs in the fourth ahead of Budge’s RBI double.

Payten Boice (Homer) made his first start of the season after 13 relief appearances and blanked the Presidents through the first four innings, although W&J stranded runners on third with one out in the third and fourth innings and runners on second in the first two innings.

In the bottom of the fifth, Begley drew a leadoff walk and Dalesandro reached on an error. One out later Helbing hit an RBI single to drive in Begley. Anthony Visconte (East Islip) relieved Boice and allowed an RBI single to Vento and a game-tying sacrifice fly to Nick Gatins.

Cortland looked poise to regain the lead in the sixth when Personius led off with a double and moved to third on a Perivolaris bunt single. Groves, however, got the next hitter to ground into a double play, with Personius having to hold at third, and a foul out to right ended the inning.

W&J took the lead in the bottom of the sixth when Ryan Sciullo was hit by a pitch, was bunted to second by Frank Fortunato, and scored on a Begley single through the left side. Jeff Cooke (Rome/Rome Free Academy), who pitched a complete game on Friday, entered for his first relief appearance of the season and got a lineout on a nice running catch by Budge, followed by a groundout, to keep the game at 4-3.

The Presidents, however, added an insurance run in the seventh with a two-out rally when Gatins singled to center and scored on a Merlino double to center. Cortland had the leadoff batter reach in the eighth on a Justin Teague (North Syracuse/Cicero-North Syracuse) leadoff single, but shortstop Gatins turned a double play off a ball hit in the hole. Personius drew a two-out walk before Groves fanned the next batter.

The hosts added a run in the eighth on a two-out Dalesandro walk, a wild pickoff throw that allowed him to move to third, and a LaRue RBI single. Groves retired the side in order in the ninth to end the game.

LaRue, Vento, Gatins and Merlino each recorded two of W&J’s 10 hits. Visconte took the loss for Cortland after being charged with the go-ahead run in the sixth.