April 1, 2007
PLYMOUTH MEETING, Pa. - Looking for its first sweep of a three-game conference series in nearly three seasons, Villanova (12-10, 3-3 Big East) was defeated 5-4 by Seton Hall (8-14, 1-5 Big East) on Sunday afternoon at the Villanova Ballpark at Plymouth. Despite the loss, the Wildcats took the series with wins in the first two games and evened their conference record at 3-3.
Trailing for most of the game, Villanova had no intention of going down quietly. The Wildcats were down 5-3 going into their last at-bat but started the ninth inning with sophomore Joe Cotter (Bryn Mawr, Pa.) drawing a walk on a full count. Cotter advanced to third on a failed pickoff attempt at first base two pitches later and scored on a sacrifice fly by junior Ryan Arcadia (Upper Saddle River, N.J.).
The Pirates stemmed the rally there however, as freshman reliever Jesse Gwaltney popped up the next two batters to finish a seven-out stint for his first career save. Gwaltney walked three, struck out two and did not allow a hit or an earned run in his outing.
Seton Hall did not hold the lead at any point in the first two games of the weekend but was in control throughout Sunday's contest thanks to the starting pitching of Dan Merklinger. The lefty struck out 12 batters and allowed just three earned runs on six hits in 6.2 innings. He established a tone early by facing the minimum number of hitters through the first two innings and not allowing a hit until Cotter's double with one out in the third inning.
Aside from the lone run in the bottom of the ninth, the other three Villanova runs all came during the third inning. After Cotter's double put runners at second and third with one out, Arcadia reached on an infield hit that allowed junior Robert Parks (Brick, N.J.) to score the team's first run. Arcadia took second on the throw home and then scored behind Cotter when junior Derek Shunk (Yardley, Pa.) blooped a fly-ball, two-run single down the right field line to give the Wildcats a 3-2 lead.
Villanova stayed in front until the fifth inning, when the Pirates scored twice to go in front for good. A sacrifice bunt by leading hitter Greg Miller set up runners at second and third with one out. A fielding error led to the first run of the inning and tied the game. A single by Chris Affinito one out later plated the second run of the inning.
In the seventh inning, the Wildcats thwarted what could have been a big Seton Hall rally when freshman Kevin Crimmel (Harrisburg, Pa.) entered the game with the bases loaded, one out and one run already forced in on a walk. Crimmel struck out the first two batters he faced and strand the bases loaded before going on to pitch scoreless frames of his own in the eighth and ninth.
A high count of stranded runners went both ways in the game and Villanova left the bases loaded in the bottom of the seventh after imposing the same fate on the Pirates in the top half. Sophomore Joe Rosati (Havertown, Pa.) bunted for a single after there were two outs and nobody on to chase Merklinger. Gwaltney walked the first two batters he faced (Shunk and junior Dan Terpak (Fort Lauderdale, Fla.) but escaped the jam with a strikeout to preserve a 5-3 lead.
Shunk and Arcadia drove in two runs apiece to account for the Wildcats, who had just six hits after totaling 22 in the opening two games of the series. Shunk also walked twice and Villanova finished the weekend by drawing 24 walks in the three games.
Sophomore starter Josh Eidell (Pottstown, Pa.) had perhaps his best start of the season despite being on the short end of the decision. Eidell struck out seven batters and walked just one over six innings and was charged with only two earned runs among the four runs scored against him. Eidell effectively located his pitches from the first inning on and came within one of matching his career high for strikeouts in a game.
Miller had two hits and scored three runs for Seton Hall and John Walsh was 3-for-5 with an RBI. Merklinger notched his second win of the season and defeated the Wildcats for the first time in three outings against the team. He had been 0-2 with a 6.52 ERA in two career starts against Villanova.
The coming week features a twist in the schedule for the Wildcats due to next weekend's Easter holiday. After hosting Saint Joseph's on Tuesday at 3 p.m., Villanova will travel to New York City for a three-game series against St. John's. The series against the Red Storm will consist of a doubleheader beginning Thursday at Noon and a single game to be played on Saturday at 1 p.m.
NOTES: The home game against Saint Joseph's on Tuesday will end a nine-game homestand ... The Wildcats are 4-4 thus far during their first games of the year at their own ballpark in Plymouth Meeting ... Villanova left eight runners on base and the Pirates stranded 11 in today's game ... Merklinger's outing ended a stretch of six straight games since 2004 in which no Seton Hall starting pitcher had lasted beyond five innings against the Wildcats ... The two starters for the Pirates in the first two games this weekend combined for just seven outs ... Crimmel has stranded nine of the 14 runners he has inherited this season ... The two-run single by Shunk was his only hit in the series (1-for-8) ... Still, the Wildcats top hitter drew six walks and was hit by two pitches during the weekend ... He scored four times and drove in four runs to finish the weekend with a .467 on-base percentage and ranked second on the squad with four RBI ... Villanova improved in every aspect of the game from its conference-opening series against Louisville last weekend ... During the series the Wildcats hit .292 (compared with .144 against Louisville), pitched to a 3.67 team ERA a(compared with 4.00) and had a .963 fielding percentage (compared to .922) ... Villanova also improved its season marks in all three areas for the weekend, now playing to a batting average of .294, ERA of 5.04 and fielding percentage of .954 ... Last season the Wildcats did not win a conference series until playing their fourth series of the league schedule and taking two of three games against Pittsburgh ... Villanova was 3-8 in the conference at that point and did not register its fourth conference win until its 12th conference game.