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May 16, 2008

 

Tone sets tone for Red Dragons

By ALAN BUTLER
Sports Editor
AUBURN — Having faced this potent Montclair State line-up earlier this season gave Matt Tone a pretty good idea of what was needed to be successful.
That’s why after pitching SUNY Cortland to a second round baseball victory in the NCAA Division III regional tournament on Thursday afternoon, the sophomore simply stated: “I knew if I got my slider going they’d have trouble.”
Tone did have his slider going and the fourth-seeded Red Hawks certainly had trouble as the unbeaten left-hander struck out 10 batters while working into the eighth inning of Cortland’s 9-2 victory at Falcon Park in Auburn.
For the second straight day Cortland got back-to-back home runs — senior catcher Mike Zaccardo and senior shortstop Matt Vitalone providing those pokes during a four-run second inning — to stay unbeaten in this six-team, double-elimination affair that will send the survivor on to the NCAA Division III World Series next week.
This was the 40th victory of the season for the top seeded Red Dragons (40-3), who play third seed Rensselaer (32-10) at 4:30 p.m. this afternoon in the winner’s bracket final back at Falcon Park.
This was a school record 36th consecutive victory, too, while Tone improved his mound mark to a perfect 8-0.
“We’re only half-way there, there’s still a long ways to go, but I’m still amazed by what these guys are doing,” said Red Dragon head coach Joe Brown.
Tone certainly set the tone early.
After walking Montclair State leadoff hitter Mike Nunes on a very close full count pitch, he retired the next 12 Red Hawks in order — eight by strikeouts.
No-hit thoughts did not enter Tone’s mind, however.
“Now really,” said the sturdy 6-foot-1, 210-pounder out off Irondequoit High School in Rochester. “I was just going out there and trying to get outs. I wasn’t too worried about it.”
The Red Hawks broke up the no-hit bid when third baseman Stephen Piscitello lined a single to center leading off the fifth frame. But an error-free Red Dragon defense turned a double play when the very next pitch was hit sharply to first baseman Nick DeVito, erasing that problem.
When the Red Hawks had runners on second and third with two outs in the top of the sixth inning, catcher Zaccardo called for a rare change-up and Tone struck out top Montclair State stick Jeff Miller to end that scoring threat.
When Montclair State loaded the bases in the seventh with one out and scored its first run on a single to center by Andrew Himmelfarb, Cortland turned a crucial double play on a grounder hit to second baseman Joey Russo to escape.
OF COURSE, CORTLAND was not in too much trouble after grabbing a 6-zip lead by the end of the second inning.
“We know when Tone’s going it guarantees you six or seven innings,” said leadoff man Khyle Dimino, the fleet-footed junior outfielder who went 4-for-4, stole two bases and scored twice out of the leadoff spot in the Cortland batting order.
“That takes the pressure off us and we can do our thing at the plate, putting the ball in play and playing small ball, which is our game,” added Dimino.
Cortland had scored 10 or more runs in its last six games, including Wednesday’s 10-1 win over Grove City to begin this NCAA regional.
Dimino opened things in the bottom of the first with a single and then distracted Red Hawks starting pitcher Jesus Castano — who threw over to the first base several times before eventually getting a ground ball out that forced Dimino at second.
But a pair of two-out walks loaded the bases and DeVito drilled a two-run single — on an 0-2 pitch — into center to give Cortland the early 2-0 edge.
Some heads-up baserunning gave Cortland its third run an inning later. Steve Nickel was hit by a pitch, took second on a passed ball and reached third when Dimino legged out a one-out bunt single.
When Mike Avery followed with a pop-up into shallow right field that the Montclair State second baseman caught for the second out, Nickel caught the infielder by surprise and dashed home where he beat a hurried, off-target throw.
Zaccardo then smacked a long home run down the right-field line for two more runs — his fifth roundtripper of the season.
Vitalone followed by clearing the fence in left on a 3-1 Castano offering and Cortland had its 6-0 lead.
Cortland added two more runs in the bottom of the sixth when Russo drew a one-out walk and Dimino singled sharply to center. A poor throw to third trying to nab Russo enabled Dimino to reach into second base.
Avery scored Russo on a fly ball to center. Dimino scored moments later from third on a wild pitch.
AFTER TONE lost his shutout in the top of the seventh, Cortland got that run back with another clutch two-out hit — Anthony Coromato’s RBI triple pulled down into the right field corner.
Tone exited to a rousing ovation in the eighth, after giving up a walk and a run-scoring double to Mike Ercolano to deep center. “I got a little tired and I was getting my pitches up,” he admitted later.
Reliever Mike Serio finished the job for the Red Dragons, the senior sidewinder claiming two more Montclair batters as strikeout victims.
Tone had been the winning pitcher back on March 22 when the Red Dragons were 8-4 winners during a New Jersey trip. But as Coach Brown pointed out: “Matt’s a different pitcher now than he was down there.”
Montclair batters can certain attest to that fact.
In other winner’s bracket contest on Thursday Rensselaer defeated Ohio Wesleyan 9-6.
Earlier in the day in elimination contests, Eastern Connecticut State knocked out Grove City 10-5 and Ithaca blanked Farmingdale 4-0.