The nightcap of Tuesday’s Division II baseball quarterfinal round — at least on paper — figured to be a tight matchup between the Angelo State Rams, who boast the country’s second best scoring offense, and the Seton Hill Griffins, who lead the nation in ERA.
But in a battle that pitted an elite offense vs. an elite defense, the Rams’ potent offense won out handily. The Griffins mounted a spirited comeback in the middle innings but would not get any closer than two.
Second-seeded Seton Hill (39-7) was beaten by the methodical, single-laden offense of third-seeded Angelo State (45-7) by a final of 9-4 on Tuesday night at the USA Baseball Training Complex in Cary, North Carolina. The Rams also survived multiple bases-loaded threats from the Griffins, who will get little rest before facing elimination in a game on Wednesday afternoon.
A game that produced 13 runs featured just three extra base hits. Instead of scoring through powerful hits, the Rams were methodical. Just two of their 13 hits went for extra bases, but it was the depth of Angelo State’s lineup that won the day.
The Rams entered the day with eight of their nine starters owning batting averages north of .300 and most of them improved on those marks by the end of the evening. Each one of the starting nine reached base safely, seven recorded hits and five tallied multi-hit games.
They were led by senior catcher Nick Seginowich, who went 3 for 4 — all of his hits falling for singles — four RBIs and a walk. Postgame, Seginowich said that the Rams focused on their own game when preparing to face the top pitching staff in Division II.
“What coach says before every game … is that we’re playing against the game of baseball and we’re playing against us,” Seginowich said. “We don’t really worry about the other team. Honestly, half the time I don’t even know who we’re playing.”
Angelo State scored seven of it’s nine runs over the course of two innings. Their first barrage came in the fourth, when they racked up four runs and extended their lead to six. After surrendering a run and putting runners on first and second, Seton Hill starter Ben Vicini was lifted after lasting 3 ⅔ innings and giving up three runs on five hits.
The following three runs, which the Rams scored on three consecutive singles, were all charged to Vinici, while Layton was on the mound.
Griffins head coach Marc Marizzaldi said that he had expected a different kind of approach from Angelo State. Instead of what he presumed would be a small-ball attack, they were victorious by virtue of a long, relentless lineup that sent wave after wave of hits.
“We were coming into this game expecting a lot more small ball,” Marizzaldi said. “Angelo State, they bunt a ton and they steal a ton of bases. They didn’t really have to do that. They had some timely hitting. I thought we were able to get ahead of some of their better hitters, but couldn’t put them away.”
Layton was able to right the ship, but only temporarily. He threw three straight shutout innings while the offense inched back with four runs in the fifth and sixth innings. Each Griffin run was scored without putting the ball in play — one came on a wild pitch, the other three on walks with the bases loaded.
But their comeback was short-lived. The Rams struck again for three runs in the top of the eighth to put the game away for good.
Angelo State head coach Kevin Brooks likened his team’s offense like a deadly, jungle snake following the win on Tuesday, because of the way they were able to keep pressure on their opponent late into the game and break the score open.
“We’re sort of like an anaconda,” Brooks said. “We start squeezing you, then we keep squeezing you and adding one or two runs here and there and generally, we’ll get a big inning where we score five or six. It’s a lot more difficult to do [in the NCAA Tournament], so we just try to score every inning.”
The Griffins will now enter their next contest — a 2 p.m. date with No. 6 Wingate University on Wednesday afternoon — not just tired, according to Marizzaldi, but on the brink of elimination from the NCAA Tournament as well.
Marizzaldi said his team will eschew normal game day preparation like batting practice in anticipation of the quick turnaround. When asked how they will recover in time for a Wednesday elimination game on Wednesday afternoon, he said they will opt for rest.
“[We’ll do it] with sleep,” Marizzaldi said.