HARWICH, Mass. -- Graduate student Colin Sitarz (West Hartford, Conn./Hall) went 3 for 5, including a home run, with two runs scored and two RBI as the third-seeded Endicott College Gulls defeated the top-seeded University of Southern Maine Huskies 5-2 Friday afternoon in a winners' bracket game of the NCAA Division III New England Regional Tournament being played at Whitehouse Field.
The victory moves the Gulls into the championship round needing one win to claim their first regional title. The Gulls, who came through the losers' bracket of the Commonwealth Coast Conference Tournament to win that title, have won seven straight games and are now 35-12 on the season.
Southern Maine will face the winner of tonight's elimination game between Wheaton College and Western New England University on Saturday (12:00 p.m.) with the winner moving on to face Endicott needing two wins for the championship. USM had its seven-game winning streak snapped and slips to 39-8 on the season.
In earlier elimination games on Friday, Western New England University held of Saint Joseph's College, 5-3, and Wheaton edged Daniel Webster College 3-1.
Sitarz gave the Gulls a 1-0 lead in the top of the fourth inning when he slammed a pitch from USM rookie right-hander Shyler Scates (Jefferson, Maine/Erskine Academy) over the left field fence for his fourth home run of the season.
Endicott added a single run in the fifth as junior Tad Gold (Martha's Vineyard, Mass.) singled, moved to second on a sacrifice by senior Eric Lemke (Southington, Conn.), and scored on a two-out single by junior EJ Martinez (Brooklyn, N.Y./Poly Prep).
USM loaded the bases against Endicott freshman starter JJ Branch (Milford, Mass.) in the sixth. Senior Tyler Hitchcock (Abington, Mass.) came on in relief of Branch and hit USM senior Tucker White (Deerfield, N.H./Coe-Brown Northwood) to force home the Huskies' first run. Hitchcock got a double play ball that allowed freshman Sam Dexter (Oakland, Maine/Messalon-skee) score. Hitchcock got out of the inning by striking out the next batter to escape without further damage.
The Gulls struck right back in the seventh against USM sophomore reliever Andrew Richards (South Portland, Maine) who was making his record 28th appearance of the season. Sitarz led off the inning with the first of three straight singles that loaded the bases for Lemke. Lemke worked Richards for a walk to force Sitarz across with the go ahead run. Freshman Matt Paola (Middlebury, Conn./Pomperaug) scored the second run of the inning on Martinez's double-play ground ball giving the Gulls a 4-2 lead.
Hitchcock was in command silencing the Huskies offense. After hitting White, the right-hander would only give up a walk to junior Troy Thibodeau (Danvers, Mass./New Hampton) in the seventh and a two-out single to junior John Carey (South Portland, Maine) in the ninth. Hitchcock, who struck out two, got the win to improve to 9-1 on the season.
The Gulls added an unearned insurance run in the eighth against Richards when Sitarz singled home sophomore Harry Oringer (Dartmouth, Mass./Coyle Cassidy) who reached base on an error.
For USM, Dexter was the lone repeat hitter with a double and single. Dexter's first-inning double was his 22nd two-bagger of the season, setting a new school single-season record. Dexter had been tied with former All-American Bob Prince who had 21 doubles in 1991. Scates went six innings allowing two runs on four hits. He did not walk or strike out a batter.