Quinnipiac baseball stuns #10 East Carolina in first NCAA tournament win


Photo Courtesy: Liz Flynn

Jacob Resnick and Kevin Higgins

By Jacob Resnick:

GREENVILLE, N.C. — The greatest win in Quinnipiac baseball history began long before the Bobcats took down the number 10 overall East Carolina Pirates, by a final score of 5-4, in the NCAA Tournament on Saturday.

Technically, it began when Quinnipiac jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first inning, quieting the home crowd which had expected its squad to be in the driver’s seat all night long, and ended when Dylan Lutz underhand-flipped Alec Burleson’s ground ball to Kevin Huscher at second base.

In reality, the preparation started long before any Bobcat set foot in the state of North Carolina, and culminated in the team’s first Tournament win in its history.

It began when the program welcomed in Liam Scafariello prior to the 2017 season. The Southington, Connecticut, native had originally committed to play at the University of Connecticut before beginning his career at San Jacinto, a junior college in Houston, Texas, in 2016.

In just three seasons, Scafariello would set Quinnipiac’s all-time home run record. None of the 45, however, meant more to the program than his two-run shot off ECU’s Evan Voliva — a towering drive that cleared the mammoth trees in left field — in the seventh inning that put the Bobcats in front for good.

“Coming from a little town in Connecticut, to going halfway across the country, then coming home to my backyard, it’s just an absolutely amazing feeling,” Scafariello said. “This one is one I’ll never forget.”

The Bobcats have lived by the phrase shine in the moment all season. Sitting on a 3-0 count, Scafariello didn’t just shine in the moment, he defined it.

“That’s why he’s here,” head coach John Delaney said. “That’s why he’s with this program.”

It began when Delaney, then a freshman infielder, and the Bobcats last found themselves in the NCAA Tournament — two games in two days in Austin, Texas, in 2005 in which they were outscored 55-10.

Saturday’s win was not just an important moment for the 2019 team, but, Delaney believes, it was crucial in changing the perception surrounding the Quinnipiac name.

“There’s always been some type of doubt on who we are,” Delaney said. “Whether it was last year being picked eighth in the league then finishing with the best record, or this year, being picked fourth and ending up winning the regular season title and MAAC Tournament.

“There’s always some hesitation from whoever it may be, within New England or in the conference, and that’s what has helped drive us. We have guys that know what happened the last time we were here, and said ‘let’s change what that name was and what people think of us,’ and to their credit they did it.”

The boisterous East Carolina fan base had attempted to poke the sleeping giant that is this team from the moment it was announced that Quinnipiac was headed to Greenville. Left-hander Colin Donnelly, who made friends beyond the left field fence earlier this week through social media, expertly blocked out the noise and tossed the final 2.1 innings in relief of starter Chris Enns.

“It was a bit different from Bobcat Stadium [“hardly a stadium,” Delaney quipped] but honestly that pressure doesn’t get to me,” said Donnelly, who had worked 10.2 scoreless innings in the MAAC Tournament. “I don’t really hear much when I’m on the mound. It just is what it is between the lines for me, as cliché as it sounds.

“I hope this isn’t a once-in-a-lifetime experience, but we kind of have to treat it like it is. These are the moments we’re going to remember.”

It began, most appropriately, at the beginning of this season. Delaney, at the first team meeting, was straight with his squad.

“We talked a lot about how nothing is going to be given to you,” Delaney had said after Quinnipiac won the MAAC title last weekend in Staten Island, New York. “We can’t take anything for granted. Someone is always going to try and outwork us, but we were going to try and earn it this year and these guys have earned everything they’ve got.”

The Bobcats will savor this one, because they know, regardless of Sunday’s outcome with the Campbell Fighting Camels, that they achieved something that no one else who has donned the navy and gold can say they did.