WEST WINDSOR, N.J. -- An improbable turn of events snatched the East Coast Conference baseball title from UMBC, so the Retrievers will spend an anxious week hoping for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
On Sunday night, coach John Jancuska's fence-busters were 3-0 in the double-elimination tournament, one win away from becoming the first team to represent UMBC in an NCAA championship since the Retrievers moved up to Division I in 1986. Rider, however, rose up to take two straight from UMBC, earning its sixth ECC title in the past 10 years with yesterday's 5-4 victory at Mercer County Park.
UMBC came into the tournament with the second-best team batting average in Division I, .359. On Sunday night, in a 2-1 loss to Rider, it was held to one hit by Brian Bernhard, who entered with a 7.77 ERA. Yesterday the Retrievers left 13 on base, two in each of the last three innings.
"We felt very confident after beating Towson State [8-1] Sunday," UMBC junior catcher Bob Mumma said. "Rider had two great pitching performances and got the key hits, and we didn't."
Fourth-seeded Rider (18-33), which was 0-16 before a March 29 win at UMBC, gained the NCAA berth in what probably was the last function of the lame-duck ECC. Broncs coach Sonny Pittaro, one of nine men on the NCAA selection committee, said he will be politicking to get the Retrievers (37-11) into the 48-team field that will be announced Monday.
"They have a better record than we did did a year ago," said Pittaro, referring to Rider's receiving an at-large bid in 1991 after losing the conference title to Towson State. "They're a great team and they've got balance."