May 23, 2009
DAYTON, Ohio - Righthander Zac Richard tossed six shutout innings and sophomore Ben Thomas cracked a three-run homer in the first inning as third-seeded Xavier captured its first-ever Atlantic 10 Baseball Championship with a 10-1win over No. 2 Rhode Island on Saturday afternoon at Fifth Third Field.
The Musketeers defeated Rhode Island earlier in the day, 9-7, to become the first team since Virginia Tech in 1999 to capture the title with two wins on the final day of the Championship. The pairings for the 64-team field of the NCAA Baseball Championship will be announced on Monday at 12:30 on ESPN. XU advances to the NCAA Tourney for the first time in team history.
"It's a credit to the seniors. They hung in there and the guys with experience came up with the big hits and key pitches," said Xavier fourth-year head coach Scott Googins, who took the program from 19-37 overall and 9-18 in league play in his first season to a program-record 38 wins this year.
"We are nowhere near where we need to be or what we can become as a program but I think this title gives us some credibility and shows the young guys how much hard work goes into winning."
After Richard retired the Rams in order in the top of the first, XU put four runs on the board in the bottom of the first off URI starter Ken Graveline (6-2). Senior Billy O'Conner drew a leadoff walk, advanced to third on second baseman Drew Schmidt's double and scored on an RBI single by Neil Lindgren, one of three hits on the afternoon by the senior rightfielder. Thomas then sent Graveline's offering deep over the fence in right for his 16th home run of the season, tying a program single-season record.
XU added a run in the third as Lindgren laced a one-out single and moved to second on a single by shortstop Jordan Conley. Junior Bobby Freking then doubled to deep center with two outs to score Lindgren. Of the 50 runs scored by the Musketeers in the Championship, 27 came with two outs. Xavier added three runs in the fifth inning, highlighted by an RBI double by Freking and a run-scoring single from senior Steve Brown, to push its lead to 8-0.
Meanwhile, Richard was cruising despite making his second start in four days. The junior scattered just three hits over six innings while fanning five en route to earning his second victory in the Championship.
"I've worked so hard over the last couple of years and I don't think anything would have kept me off the mound today," said Richard, who improved to 4-0 on the season.
"My arm felt surprisingly good today and I was able to hit my spots and make some good pitches."
URI got on the board in the seventh on a run-scoring single by freshman Dan Haverstick but XU quickly responded with two runs as it finished with 12 hits in the game and 24 on the day. Lindgren went 3-for-4 with three runs scored, one of five XU players to register post multi-hit performances in the contest, while O'Conner scored his eighth run of the Championship en route to being tabbed the Most Outstanding Player.
"It's a nice honor but to be honest, if I went 0-for-20 and we won the A-10 Championship, I would be happy," said O'Conner.
"For Zac [Richard] to come out and do that shows how much heart he has and what type of competitor he is."
First baseman Jeff Cammans, Haverstick and junior Oliver Palmer collected two hits apiece for Rams, who were eliminated by Xavier in the Championship for the third consecutive year. Seeking its second-ever A-10 crown in program annals and first since 2005, Rhode Island established a club record with 37 victories and its highest finish at the tourney since 2005.
O'Conner was joined on the All-Championship Team by teammates Conley, Freking, John McCambridge, Richard and Thomas; Rob Lyerly of Charlotte; Massachusetts' Mike Gedman; Zack Jacob of Dayton; and Rhode Island's Nick Greenwood, Oliver Palmer and Tom Coulombe.
"Billy [O'Conner] is a coach on the field, he really is. He'll do whatever it takes and is very unselfish," said Googins.
"He is what makes us go and he really deserves this award."