Senior Brian Ernst threw eight innings without allowing an earned run on just two days rest and East Stroudsburg University used a five-run fifth inning to secure its first PSAC baseball championship since 1971 with a 7-1 win over defending champion West Chester on Saturday at Point Stadium.
The Warriors (33-16), who set a school record with their 33rd win, earned the PSAC’s automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament thanks in large part to an outstanding effort by Ernst, who was named the PSAC Tournament MVP.
ESU went 4-0 in the tournament with Ernst starting the opener on Wednesday against Gannon. He went 52⁄3 innings in an 8-5 win and was lifted after a lightning delay of four hours, 13 minutes that allowed him to return Saturday on short rest.
Ernst led ESU offensively and on the mound, going 8-for-16 with two RBI and four runs scored at the plate, and threw 13.2 innings on the mound, allowing just four earned runs and striking out 13. He was 4-for-5 along with his 52⁄3-inning stint in the win over Gannon.
ESU will be included in the national field for the second time in three years. The Warriors finished third in the Atlantic Region in 2011.
The six-team Atlantic Regional will begin on Friday at a site to be determined. Winston-Salem (CIAA) and Concord (WVIAC) received their conference’s automatic bids, and Millersville and Seton Hill are expected to be included as well based on last week’s regional rankings, leaving one at-large spot still available.
West Chester (25-24-1) came up one game short of returning to the NCAA tournament. The Golden Rams won two extra-inning games against Kutztown May 4 to earn the PSAC East’s fourth and final playoff spot, then went 3-0 this week before falling to the Warriors.
Ernst was the third straight ESU pitcher to go eight innings as the Warriors won four games using just five pitchers. Junior Ryan Lubreski set ESU’s single-season record for wins, improving to 8-0, in a 6-2 win over Millersville on Thursday night. Junior Matt Smith went eight innings in a 7-4 win over California on Friday night to pitch ESU into the PSAC championship game.
Ernst, ESU’s No. 1 starter and a three-time All-PSAC East utility selection, struck out nine and walked three against West Chester, getting better as the game went on. After walking two in the first inning, he threw 1-2-3 innings in the second, fourth and eighth and stranded nine of 10 WCU base runners.
After ESU took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, Ernst pitched around a leadoff double by Rob Lessig in the third by getting Chris Pula, 10-for-14 in his last three games, to fly out to right to end the threat.
In the fifth, he used two strikeouts to eliminate a leadoff single by Rob Spekhardt. West Chester scored an unearned run on two hits and an error in the sixth, but Ernst struck out Spekhardt with runners on first and second to get out of the inning.
WCU threatened again in the seventh, trailing 6-1, and Ernst got Pula out in a big spot again. The Golden Rams had runners on second and third with two outs, but junior center fielder Chris Knott ran down a fly ball to shut it down.
Ernst got two flyouts and his ninth strikeout of the game in the eighth, and turned it over to junior Keenan Stare for the ninth. Stare pitched in all four games, recorded two saves, and allowed just one hit in five innings. He struck out Jack Provine for the final out and started ESU’s first PSAC championship celebration in 42 years.
Offensively, the Warriors got a first-inning lead for the second straight game when senior outfielder Eric Boyer hit a two-out single to left, stole second and scored on a base hit to center by junior designated hitter Mike Tenaglia.
West Chester starter Connor Kerins, who was the starter and winning pitcher in West Chester’s 2009 and 2012 PSAC tournament championships, retired ESU in order in the second and third innings, and got out of a huge jam in the fourth when ESU had three hits and a walk but made two outs on the base paths.
The game turned in the fifth, when the Golden Rams turned it over to All-PSAC East first team reliever Kyle Weary.
Junior shortstop Eric Linares battled back from an 0-2 count to draw a one-out walk from the No. 9 spot, senior second baseman Joe Bennie waited out another walk and Ernst legged out an 80-foot single that found room between the first baseman, second baseman and pitcher to load the bases for Boyer.
Boyer, just 2-for-11 in the tournament but second in school history in career RBI, belted a two-run double to the wall in right field to score Linares and Bennie and give the Warriors a 3-0 lead. Tenaglia followed with a sacrifice fly to center to score Ernst and move Boyer to third, and Knott reached on a throwing error by Weary on a chopper down the third base line with Boyer scoring on the play.
Junior catcher Eric Forth provided the final hit of the five-run inning, hitting a sinking liner to center that turned into his first career triple when Mike Raimo was unable to come up with a diving catch.
That was more than enough offense for Ernst, who held West Chester’s first five hitters to 2-for-17 with three walks after they led the Golden Rams to a 14-8 win over Millersville on Friday night to reach the championship game.
ESU added an insurance run in the eighth when Forth led off with a single, redshirt sophomore outfielder Andy Brandstetter doubled down the line in right and Forth scored on a sacrifice fly by Linares.
ESU had 11 hits, five off Kerins and six off Weary, who both threw 4.0 innings.
Boyer was 4-for-4 with two RBI and two runs from the No. 3 spot. Tenaglia was 2-for-3 with two RBI as the cleanup hitter and Forth was 3-for-4 with an RBI and a run in the No. 6 hole.