NORTON, Mass. -- Senior catcher Dan Hyatt (Wallingford, Conn.) hit the game-winning single on the 14th pitch of his at-bat in the top of the eighth and sophomore pitcher Henry Zhu (Overland Park, Kan.) retired all seven batters that he faced to earn the win as the third-seeded MIT Engineers ousted the second-seeded Babson College Beavers with a 7-6 victory in the losers' bracket final of the 2011 New England Women's and Men's Athletic Conference (NEWMAC) Baseball Tournament at Wheaton College on Saturday afternoon.
With its second win over Babson in the tournament, the Engineers (21-11) move on to the championship round against the top seed and host Wheaton later today. The Lyons need just one win to secure their 11th NEWMAC Tournament Championship, while MIT would have to win Saturday's game as well as Sunday's rematch to earn its first-ever tourney title.
With its second loss of the tournament, Babson sees its outstanding 2011 campaign come to a close with a record of 25-13.
In a match-up of two of the top starting pitchers in the conference, MIT sophomore Aric Dama (Winfield, Ill.) and Babson senior Andrew Aizenstadt (Norwell, Mass.) both struggled in the contest. Dama went five innings and allowed five runs - four earned - on five hits, walked three, hit two batters, and struck out three in the no-decision, while Aizenstadt (4-2) went 7 1/3 innings and gave up seven runs on two hits, walked four, hit a batter, and fanned six in suffering the loss. The defeat was just the fourth of his spectacular career, as he concludes his Babson career with an incredible record of 17-4.
Zhu was brilliant in relief for MIT, coming on to pitch out of a bases-loaded jam in the seventh and then setting down the side in order in the eighth and ninth. The win improved his season record to 5-2.
MIT took an early 1-0 lead in the top of the first, beginning when senior Brian Doyle (Hopkinton, Mass.) was hit by an Aizenstadt pitch to lead off the game. Junior Bryan Macomber (Los Altos, Calif.) followed with a single to shallow center, and after a sacrifice bunt by Hyatt moved both runners up, junior A.J. Hansborough (Deltona, Fla.) drove in the game's first run with an RBI groundout to first.
That lead held up until the bottom of the second, when Babson jumped in front with four runs on just two hits. After a leadoff walk to junior Travis Jonasson (Needham, Mass.), sophomore Chris Kucher (Westwood, Mass.) singled to left and sophomore Conor Kortmann (Manalapan, N.J.) was hit by a pitch to load the bases with no outs. Dama would induce a foul pop-up for the first out, but sophomore Pat Matvichuk (Middleton, Mass.) drew the southpaw's second free pass of the inning to force in Jonasson with the tying run. First-year Chris Warren (Medfield, Mass.) then laced a two-run double deep into the right field corner, and junior Joe Nixon (Foxboro, Mass.) followed with an RBI grounder to short to give the Beavers a 4-1 advantage.
The Engineers trimmed their deficit to one with a pair of runs in the third, with Doyle once again starting things off - this time with a lead-off walk. Aizenstadt would retire the next two batters, but Hansborough drove in his second run of the afternoon when his double to left center scored Doyle the way from first. Sophomore James McKinney (Wakefield, R.I.) then looped a single over the second baseman's head to plate Hansborough with MIT's third run of the game, making it 4-3.
Babson scored an unearned run in the bottom of the fourth, thanks to a trio of MIT miscues. After a defensive miscommunication allowed Matvichuk's lazy fly to shallow left to drop in for a one-out single, the Beavers' shortstop moved to second on a passed ball and then scored on a two-out infield error, pushing his team's lead to 5-3.
MIT regained the advantage with another big inning in the sixth, starting with a leadoff single to right by McKinney. Two batters later, senior Ryne Barry (Phoenix, Ariz.) drew a walk, and first-year Sean Karson (Winter Park, Fla.) followed with the biggest hit of the game to that point - a two-run triple into the right field corner. First-year Jonathan Rea (Palo Alto, Calif.) then knocked in Karson with a single to right, putting the Engineers back in front, 6-5.
Babson tied the game for the final time in the seventh, starting when junior Billy Miller (Sagamore Beach, Mass.) hit a one-out single to knock junior reliever Chris Hendrix (Richardson, Texas) out of the game. Ahern then greeted sophomore Max Ockner (Chesterfield, Mo.) with a double to left, and Jonasson followed with a sacrifice fly down the line in left to plate Miller with the tying run.
The Beavers threatened to take the lead later in the seventh, as Kucher was hit by an Ockner pitch and Kortmann drew a walk off senior reliever Cameron Brown (Lakewood, Colo.) to load the bases. However, Zhu came out of the bullpen and retired Cleary on a fly ball to left to espace further damage.
MIT scored the winning run on a rare play in the top of the eighth. After Rea singled with one out to chase Aizenstadt, Doyle and Macomber greeted first-year reliever Derek Richards (Framingham, Mass.) with back-to-back infield hits to load the bases. That set up an epic battle between Richards and Hyatt, as the Engineers' number-three hitter fought off eight consecutive 3-2 pitches before hitting the 14th pitch of his at-bat up the middle. The ball struck the second base umpire before reaching a fielder, which by rule put Hyatt at first base and forced in the go-ahead run. Babson then turned an inning-ending double play to keep it at 7-6 heading into the bottom of the eighth.
Zhu would take over from there, retiring all three batters he faced in the eighth and then setting down the heart of Babson's lineup in order in the ninth.
Five different players recorded multiple hits for MIT, as Doyle, Macomber, McKinney, Rea, and sophomore Ricardo Perez (Vienna, Va.) finished with two hits apiece. Doyle scored twice, and Hansborough and Karson each drove in two.
Ahern capped off his spectacular senior season with another big day for Babson, going 3-for-5 with a double while also making two tremendous diving catches in right field. The Beavers' senior captain ended the year with a .438 average and a .764 slugging percentage at the plate while also going 5-2 with a 1.19 ERA on the mound.