Under Pressure

West Chester Holds On To Win Nail-Biter, 5-4

Winston-Salem State’s Randy Norris (32) dives safely back to first base ahead of the pickoff attempt that is being received by West Chester first baseman Jared Melone during the the second game of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional at Diethrick Park on Thursday. P-J photos by Scott Kindberg

It wasn’t West Chester’s best game, but Coach Jad Prachniak left Diethrick Park early Thursday evening in pretty good spirits.

“You just have to find a way to win it and move on,” he said after the Golden Rams survived a stomach-churning top of the eighth inning to edge Winston-Salem State, 5-4, in Game 2 of the NCAA Division II Atlantic Regional. “The margin is so small in this.”

But it was West Chester’s big man out of the bullpen who kept his composure and literally saved the day.

Josh McClain, a 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior, worked his way into and out of trouble in the top of the eighth by striking out Michael McNamara with the bases loaded to preserve the one-run lead and then retired the side in order in the ninth to send the No. 2 Golden Rams (37-11) into today’s 7 p.m. game against No. 6 Shepherd, a 10-3 winner over No. 3 Seton Hill in the tournament opener.

“We saw Shepherd in the very first game of the year,” Prachniak said. “I know they have some guys who can swing it and there are some good arms. It’s going to be a tough matchup.”

West Chester closer Josh McLain delivers to the plate during the ninth inning. P-J photos by Scott Kindberg

The Golden Rams appear to be battle tested.

They led 1-0 after the second inning on Drew Jarmuz sacrifice fly and expanded it to 3-0 on Jarmuz’s two-run home run in the fourth off losing pitcher Seth Reeves (9-3).

“He must have put a charge into it to leave the yard on that side of the field,” Parchniak said. “He’s got some pop, he got a pitch to hit and he put a charge into it.”

Armed with the 3-0, West Chester appeared in control, but they weren’t able to put Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association tournament champion (35-18) away.

An RBI double by Brandon Ford off winning pitcher Jon Fisher (7-2) in the sixth plated the Rams’ first run to close the margin to 3-1. West Chester got the run back in the bottom of the frame when Shane Dressler led off with walk and eventually scored on a two-out error, pushing the lead to 4-1.

Each team scored a run in the seventh — Winston-Salem State’s was unearned while the Golden Rams’ Jared Melone had an RBI single off reliever Garrison Roy — setting the stage for an eventful top of the eighth.

The Rams’ Randy Norris led off the inning with a single off Fisher. Prachniak went to his bullpen and brought in McClain, who stuck out John Garcia for the first out. But Ford reached on an error, which allowed Norris to score, and then Ford, after stealing second base, crossed the plate on Ivan Acuna’s single.

Suddenly, the Rams were within a run.

McClain got the second out on a flyball, but then he walked the next two batters to load the bases. With Winston-Salem State’s McNamara at the plate, McCLain was one pitch away from walking in the tying run, but he rebounded from a three-ball, no-strike count to strike out McNamara swinging to finally end the inning.

“He’s certainly had cleaner outings during the year, but basically any of those high-pressure situations he’s been at his best,” Prachniak said. “The bases got loaded and they scored a couple runs, but he made the big pitch when he had to, and he’s been doing that all year for us.”

The Rams went quietly in the seventh, allowing McClain to earn his ninth save.

“At least we gave the fans a good game,” Winston-Salem State coach Keith Ritsche said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t really blame it on one guy or one particular play because there were several opportunities for both teams to score. Both teams made mistakes and both teams capitalized on (them). … Our (starting) pitcher didn’t have his best stuff today, but he battled, and I thought he gave us an opportunity to win.”

NOTES: Nick Bateman had three of West Chester’s six hits. … Reeves gave up four hits, struck out seven and issued one walk in his 110-pitch outing. … Norris, Garcia, Ford and Landon Steiner each had two hits for Winston-Salem State. … Reeves struck out five and walked four in 5.2 innings.