By John Cirillo
Ivey Lee Speight contributed details to this story.
Follow us on Twitter @JohnnySportsMan
The Fairfield University baseball team, seeded #1 in the MAAC tournament, won its opening round game on Wednesday night at Dutchess Stadium in Wappingers Falls, New York, and advance to Friday’s “winner’s bracket” final for head coach Bill Currier, facing the victor of second-seeded Siena and fourth-seeded Canisius. First pitch is at noon.
The Stags played “Wally Ball” for the eighth time this season. Sophomore hurler Gavin Wallace became the first Fairfield pitcher in 16 years to win eight games in a season, matching the program record, in pitching Fairfield to the 5-2 victory over Manhattan which he called “the biggest win of the year,” advancing the top-seeded Stags in the MAAC Tournament and put them one victory away from the Championship Series.
If the Stags win that game on Friday, they will advance to their third MAAC Championship Series in program history and the first since 2000 on Saturday.
Junior captain Mac Crispino, riding a six-for-nine hot streak at the plate, was Fairfield’s Mr. Clutch again against Manhattan, lining an RBI single to give Fairfield a 2-1 lead, and the Stags never looked back. It was his first of two hits in the contest.
Wallace, pitching in his most pressurized game as a Stag, preserved that lead over the next four innings and surrendered just four total hits during his first seven innings of work.
The Stags added to the lead in the seventh stanza when DH deluxe Troy Scocca launched his fifth home run of the season to put Fairfield in front, 3-1.
Ace reliever Mike Bonaiuto replaced Wallace with two outs in the eighth and the lefty struck out the lone man he faced in the frame to preserve the Stags lead at 5-2 through eight. Bonaiuto allowed a leadoff hit in the ninth, but locked down the save when he retired the next three batters to give the Stags their third win in the MAAC Tournament in the last three years.
It has already been a season of highlights for Fairfield in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference. Head Coach Bill Currier was named “Lids Team Sports MAAC Coach of the Year,” skippering the tags to their first regular season title in 33 years, the first since 1983 when Hall of Famer Don Cook was head coach. It was Currier’s second MAAC yearly award and fifth of his outstanding career.
Fairfield players were also honored with five all-MAAC selections, the most ever in a single season. Senior right fielder Jake Salpietro was selected to the All-MAAC First Team for the second time in his stay at Fairfield, while junior captain Mac Crispino, catcher Kevin Radziewicz, outfielder/DH Troy Scocca, and pitcher Kyle Dube were all selected to the Second Team for the first time in their careers.
“This team has had a lot of different hitters and pitchers step up throughout the season,” Coach Currier said. “It’s nice to see them go through the adversity that they faced. After losing a lot of seniors and Mike Wallace last season, it was not that surprising we were picked so low, but the coaches didn’t know how much better some of the current players got.”
Currier was the MAAC’s Coach of the Year in 2012, his first season at the helm of the Stags. Prior to his tenure at Fairfield, Currier was cited as Coach of the Year in the America East three times (2002, 2003, and 2006) while at Vermont.
Salpietro becomes the first Stag since Ryan Plourde (2013, 2014) to be named to the conference’s First Team in two separate seasons. Bouncing back from a tough season in 2015 (.203 average), the Massachusetts product worked hard in the offseason to produce the comeback campaign. Salpietro tied for the conference lead with nine home runs and is third in total bases (109), fourth in slugging percentage (.540), seventh in RBI (37), and ninth in batting average (.327).
The Stags leading hitter with runners in scoring position, Crispino was selected to his first All-MAAC team representing the utility spot on the Second Team. The reigning MAAC Player of the Week, hit .370 in RBI situations, including a 4-for-5 clip in the final week of the season. Crispino was a .302 hitter and finished second on the team with 32 RBI.
The underrated Radziewicz represented the league’s catchers on the Second Team. The Cromwell, CT. native hit a blistering .406 hitter in Fairfield wins this season, and a presence behind the plate, throwing out 15 potential base stealers. Radziewicz finished third on the team in three categories: average (.326), RBI (31), and slugging percentage (.402).
Scocca was selected as the Second Team’s designated hitter after leading the team with a .425 slugging percentage. The Syosett, NY, product was named the MAAC Player of the Week on March 1, after slugging .900 in his first three games against Delaware State. His two-run homer gave the Stags some breathing room in the playoff-clincher against Monmouth.
Leading the pitching staff for the past two seasons has been the junior right hander Dube, and he was rewarded with his first Second Team selection. Dube was a big part of the Stags’ success in conference game, as the Stags lost just two of the MAAC games he started, and finishing with a team-best 2.84 in conference games. Overall, his 3.38 ERA was eighth in the league and finished sixth in wins, and eighth in opponent’s batting average.