The Salisbury baseball team is one win away from its first national championship.
The Sea Gulls defeated St. Thomas-Minnesota, 6-1, on Monday night in Game 1 of the final round of the NCAA Division III tournament, a best-of-three series at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
Game 2 is scheduled for Tuesday at noon, and an if-necessary Game 3 is scheduled for 30 minutes after the conclusion of Game 2.
The Tommies (37-9) struck first Monday, with Charlie Bartholomew driving in a run on a groundout in the top of the first inning for a 1-0 lead. That was all St. Thomas would get, as Salisbury’s Jackson Balzan allowed just five hits and two walks in five innings with three strikeouts to pick up his ninth win of the season.
Jacob Ference hit a two-run homer in the bottom of the second to give the Sea Gulls (33-4) a 2-1 lead, and Luke Weddell doubled to drive in two more in the fifth to make it 4-1. Weddell scored on a single by Cullen McAuliffe to push the lead to 5-1, and Cameron Hyder hit a sacrifice fly in the sixth to make it 6-1.
Clayton Dwyer followed Balzan with four scoreless innings, allowing just one hit and striking out four for his second save of the season.
Salisbury 11, Cortland 8: It took until the early morning hours Monday the Sea Gulls to make history.
After scoring four runs in the top of the ninth inning to rally past Cortland, 11-8, at Veterans Memorial Stadium in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, the Sea Gulls advanced to the championship round of the NCAA Division III tournament for the first time in program history.
The Sea Gulls’ 12th straight win didn’t come easy. The Red Dragons surged in front in the seventh inning, 8-7, on a two-run home run by Mat Bruno to left-center field.
After a scoreless eighth, Salisbury came alive in the ninth. Jacob Ference was hit by a pitch to lead off the top of the inning, and Trent Saunders came in to pinch run. After a foul out, Cullen McAuliffe singled to left, and Justin Meekins walked to load the bases. Kavi Caster and Scott Cameron drew back-to-back hit-by-pitches to force in the tying and go-ahead runs.
Stephen Rice hit into a fielder’s choice at second, and a throwing error by the shortstop allowed Meekins and Caster to score to make it 11-8.
Aided by a spectacular catch in foul territory by Cameron Hyder in right field, Benji Thalheimer finished off the Red Dragons in order in the ninth.
Cameron finished 3-for-5 with a home run and three RBIs, while Caster went 3-for-5 with two runs and two RBIs. Luke Weddell and Cullen McAuliffe each had three hits and scored twice.
Thalheimer made his first appearance since May 8 and picked up his first career win, pitching 2 ⅔ scoreless innings and allowing just one walk to finish off the win.
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It’s the furthest Salisbury has advanced in the NCAA tournament since 2001, when the Sea Gulls finished fourth.