Central Connecticut won its second Northeast Conference Championship in three seasons with a 3-2 win over Bryant on Sunday at Dodd Stadium in Norwich, CT. CCSU won a seventh game at the league's championship tournament for the first time since 2010 after getting another strong pitching performance from seniors Tom Curtin and Jared Gallagher and junior Brandon Fox. The Blue Devils forced a decisive game seven with the Bulldogs after a win on Saturday night. The league title is the sixth at CCSU for head coach Charlie Hickey.
Central will learn its NCAA Tournament opponents on Monday, May 27, when the bracket is announced on ESPNU at Noon.
CCSU improves to 30-21 overall on the season with the win, while Bryant falls to 40-20.
Central trailed by a run heading into the final three frames after Bryant got two runs in the sixth. The Blue Devils tied the game in the bottom of the seventh after junior Dave Matthews led off with a homerun to left field and made it, 2-2, and gave a spark to the CCSU lineup.
Kanios then led off the eighth inning with a double down the third base line. On the next batter, Bryant anticipated a sacrifice bunt, but sophomore Matt Bertochi pulled back and hit a single through the middle where the shortstop had vacated and Kanios came around to score the decisive run.
In the ninth, Gallagher allowed a one-out walk, but the Blue Devils would turn a double-play on a groundball up the middle to end the game and clinch the championship. The double-play was the fourth of the game for CCSU and the eighth of the championship weekend in five games.
Senior Tom Curtin, who pitched a complete-game shutout on Thursday, recorded three strikeouts in the first three innings, but Bryant put together a challenge in the fourth. Chris Wright drew a leadoff walk and moved to third on a single by James Ciliento. Following a strikeout and an intentional walk to load the bases with one out, Curtin got a groundball up the middle that turned into an inning-ending double play.
Steve Theetge started for Bryant and matched Curtin through four innings. He limited Central to just a single through four frames, while striking out five. Junior Buddy Dewaine reached on an error to lead the Blue Devils fifth. He would move to second on a sacrifice bunt and got to third on a fly out to right field. Junior Chris Kanios tapped a grounder up the middle with two outs and legged out an infield single to drive in Dewaine and make it 1-0.
Curtin would allow a one-out single to Chris Wright in the sixth. A sacrifice bunt would move Wright to second with two outs before Sam Owens laced a low liner into centerfield to drive in a run and make it 1-1. Gaby Cruz followed with a double to left field and put the Bulldogs ahead 2-1.
The right-handed Curtin finished his day after 5.2 innings and did not figure in the decision. He was named the NEC Tournament MVP after allowing just two runs over 14.2 innings of work on the weekend. The runs he allowed in the sixth were the first he allowed in NEC Tournament play in 18.1 innings, dating back to the 2017 championship across three appearances.
Gallagher and junior Brandon Fox combined to throw 3.1 innings of shutout relief. Gallagher earned the win tossing 2.0 hitless innings. He walked one and struck out one.
Kanios went 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI as CCSU was limited to five hits as a team. Matthews' homerun was his lone hit of the day, while sophomore TT Bowens and Bertochi each had a single.
Dewaine, Gallagher and Bowens were also named to the All-Tournament Team along with Curtin.
The Blue Devils earn the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Tournament and will play at the Regionals on May 31-June 3. CCSU will learn its opponents on Monday when the bracket is announced at Noon on ESPNU.