RALEIGH, N.C. — Though it was a matchup of the lower seeds in the NCAA Baseball Raleigh Regional, Saturday’s elimination game between Saint Mary’s and Navy played out like a clash of titans.
Neither program wanted their seasons to end, as a thrilling back-and-forth battle carried both teams into extra innings, where Navy finally won it with three runs in the 13th inning to eliminate the Gaels with a 6-5 victory at Doak Field at Dail Park on the campus of NC State.
“It's never easy when you're in the last game. There’s only going to be one team in the end that's celebrating but I'm proud of these guys and the way they battled and competed,” said Saint Mary’s head coach Eric Valenzuela. “Unfortunately, we didn't get it done today or this weekend. We used every position player and almost every pitcher with the exception of two so we got a lot of guys some experience in some big situations in a regional tournament so I couldn't be more proud of them.”
Saint Mary’s (33-25) fought off threat after threat by the Midshipmen (43-15-1) in extra innings after coming from behind to tie it at 5-5 in the eighth. Nathan Simmons (0-1) escaped a 10th-inning jam and kept the game tied for three straight frames. But the Gaels could not come up with the walk-off winning run. They went down in order in both the bottom of the ninth and 10th, and drew just a two-out walk in the bottom of the 11th, leaving the game tied.
“I think that's the makeup of our team this whole year, we've been behind more than a dozen times this year late in games and found a way to battle and come back,” said Valenzuela. “On the mound, getting out of those jams like that you hope that you have good energy and that it sets up offensively for the next inning but unfortunately that didn't happen today.”
The Gaels’ best chance to win the game came in the bottom of the 12th. Brett Rasso singled through the right side with one out and stole second base, putting himself in scoring position. But a strikeout byCharles Zaloumis and deep flyout to the warning track by Zach Kirtley ended the inning and brought up Navy for its game-winning rally.
Simmons, who was two outs short of his longest outing of the year, allowed a leadoff single in the 13th to Navy nine-hole hitter Logan Knowles. Knowles was sacrificed to second and went to third base on a balk call. That’s when Travis Blue put Navy ahead with an RBI double to deep right-center field to make it 6-5. He later scored, along with Stephen Born who reached on an infield single, thanks to a two-run single by Sean Trent, making it 8-5.
Even down three runs in the 13th with just three outs left, the Gaels still mounted another comeback attempt. Joey Fiske led off the inning with a single and Austin Piscotty doubled to right field to give SMC two runners in scoring position with only one out. Nate Nolan stepped to the plate with a chance to tie the game, something he did twice in one game on May 26 in the West Coast Conference Tournament. But he would strike out looking. And the game ended on another strikeout, adding to the Gaels’ missed opportunities in the game.
The Saint Mary’s season came to an end as one of the most historic in program history. The Gaels won their first-ever regular season West Coast Conference championship and followed it up by sweeping to the WCC Tournament title. The Gaels won 33 games – their most in nearly 40 years – and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever. Valenzuela was named Coach of the Year and six Gaels were named to All-WCC teams. Another nine received WCC All-Academic honors.