LOWELL, Mass. – The Hartford baseball team was performing on a new stage Thursday night, appearing in the America East tournament for the first time since joining the conference in 1997.
“So with the situation,” ace pitcher Sean Newcomb said, “there was a little adrenaline.”
Newcomb let that adrenaline simmer during two pre-game rain delays, then uncorked a 121-pitch flame of a performance on the Binghamton lineup.
Hitting 97 MPH on the radar gun and effectively mixing off-speed pitches, Newcomb had a career-high 14 strikeouts and allowed just one hit over seven innings as the second-seeded Hawks defeated No. 3 Binghamton 6-1 at LeLacheur Park.
“He was electric in the first couple innings,” coach Justin Blood said. “Best breaking ball I’ve seen in a while, fastball just blowing by guys. I knew [early] he was very good.”
Hartford (31-21) advances to the winner’s bracket and will play top-seeded Stony Brook (33-16), which defeated Maine, Friday at 6 p.m. with the winner advancing to the championship round of the double-elimination tournament.
The Hawks, who continue to build on their single-season record victory total, finished two games behind the first-place Seawolves in the regular-season standings. Hartford had finished in fifth place or worse each of the last 17 years, therefore always missing the four-team tournament field.
“We were ready to go and we were confident with Newk on the mound,” said senior rightfielder Ryan Lukach, whose two-run single capped a four-run rally with two outs in the third inning. “When we got those four [runs], there was no looking back. When I came up it was already 2-0 and there were two guys in scoring position. I knew Sean wasn’t going to give up much so I said, you know what, this is a bonus at-bat. If you see something, just try to hit it hard. I happened to do that.”
Aaron Wilson and David MacKinnon had opened the scoring with RBI singles in that inning off Binghamton starter Jack Rogalla (5-8).
Newcomb (8-2, 1.25 ERA) walked four and allowed on a bunt single in the fourth inning, when Binghamton scored its only run (unearned) with the help of two errors. Still, he struck out the side, giving him 11 strikeouts. Newcomb also struck out the side in the seventh to tie his career high of 12 and then surpass it by two. His 121st pitch was a change up to retire Zach Bladen.
“It’s huge to get a good start in the tournament,” said Newcomb, a junior who is expected to be a first-round selection June 5 in the Major League draft. “We’re in a good position and we just have to take a couple more games. I had all my pitches working and I just felt good all around.”
The America East tournament record for strikeouts in a game is 18 by Jay O’Shaughnessy of Northeastern (1994) and Mark Ballard of Maine (1993).
“He’s special,” Blood said of Newcomb. “He just competes and finds a way.”
Newcomb’s previous season high for strikeouts was nine. He did it twice this season, the last time May 3 against Maryland-Baltimore County. He threw a no-hitter in a seven-inning game as a freshman against Yale and also threw seven no-hitinnings against Stony Brook March 29 this season.
MacKinnon had three hits and scored two runs for the Hawks, making their first postseason appearance since the 1996 North Atlantic Conference tournament. Chris DelDebbio had and Wilson each had two hits.
Senior righthander Brian Hunter (4-7, 3.87 ERA) will start Friday against Stony Brook, who is expected to start senior righty Brandon McNitt (7-1, 2.77).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun