Knockout punches: Shepherd falls in MEC tournament, left out of NCAA event
A balk that allowed the winning to score, and line-drive turned into a double play on the last play of a second extra-inning game brought a crashing end to Shepherd’s season.
It was annual nemesis West Virginia State that kept the Rams from winning the Mountain East Conference tournament championship, and then it was the NCAA that didn’t select Shepherd to the Division II’s national tournament — favoring West Chester and its 26-13 record over the Rams and their 39-12 record.
Shepherd went into Sunday’s play in Beckley with a 3-0 tournament record, while the Yellowjackets had a loss and needed to beat the Rams twice in order to win the double-elimination event.
In grotesque fashion, Shepherd let a 7-3 lead after seven innings of the day’s first game slip away. A four-run top of the seventh had left the Rams ahead. John Bentley had hushed the Yellowjacket bats and had allowed no earned runs. But with senior Brian Martin on to pitch the eighth, the game changed rapidly and radically.
There was a two-run rally in the eighth by the Yellowjackets. And then there was another two-run rally in the ninth to send the game into extra innings.
Shepherd hadn’t scored in the eighth or ninth . . . and couldn’t score in the 10th. Martin had not been able to keep West Virginia State off the scoreboard in either of his two innings.
In the fatal 10th, the Yellowjackets had two outs and a runner on third base. Martin was called for a balk. And the winning run scored in an 8-7 win by West Virginia State.
Both teams had a tournament loss.
A pivotal final game was staged.
Much like the opener, Shepherd had a late-inning lead — relying on the pitching of starter Bryan DiRosario (two days rest), Jamie Driver (one day rest) and Sam Crater (pitching again after going nine innings the day before).
Unearned runs had plagued the Rams the same as they had in Sunday’s first game.
West Virginia State erased all of Shepherd’s earlier lead with a two-run ninth that meant another extra-inning finish.
Crater gave up a run in the top of the 10th as the Yellowjackets took a 5-4 lead.
In the last of the 10th, Shepherd managed to load the bases and had only one out when Chase Hoffman — in his first at-bat of the whole afternoon — stood in for the Rams. Hoffman drilled a Josh Falbo pitch on a line at the third baseman. The third baseman snared Hoffman’s shot . . . and taqged third base before Shepherd’s Crater could return.
The threat was over in the blink of an eye.
The Yellowjackets had won the 2015 MEC tournament, the same as they had done in 2014.
West Virginia State had a 35-14 overall record and Shepherd had a 39-12 overall mark.
West Virginia State did not receive an automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Atlantic Region tournament. It would have to be extended an at-large bid if its season were to continue.
Entering the MEC tournament, Shepherd was ranked fifth in the Atlantic Region and West Virginia State was ranked eighth. Six teams comprise the field in the regional tournament.
West Chester (Pa.) had a 26-13 overall record and was the sixth-ranked team in the Atlantic Region.
When Sunday’s firing and misfiring was over, the NCAA tournament committee in Indianapolis shoved West Chester, which hadn’t played, up to the fifth spot in the rankings and moved West Virginia State ahead to the sixth spot.
Shepherd was left out in the West Virginia cold, packing up its gear with a 39-12 record while the Golden Rams of West Chester moved into the six-team regional with their 26-13 record.
Shepherd and West Virginia State had split the six games the teams played this season.
A balk and a blistered line drive turned into a season-ending double play had been Shepherd’s fate on a Sunday when better things could have happened to the Rams.