MANSFIELD, Conn. – St. Joseph’s may never have had a sweeter day of baseball.

The Monks capped an improbable day with a 9-7 victory over No. 2 seed Wheaton in the NCAA Division III New England baseball regional Friday night, hours after knocking off No. 3 Western New England, 3-2.

The Monks advanced to face top-seeded Tufts at 1 p.m. today. The winner advances to the championship round at 5 p.m. and will have to beat undefeated UMass-Boston, the seventh seed, twice to advance to the Division III national championship in Appleton, Wis.

“That’s a great win for everyone in our program,” said Coach Will Sanborn. “I’d be lying if I didn’t say that’s not a sweet victory.

“You step back and look at the faces of these guys, the parents, alumni in the stands. That’s what it’s all about.”

St. Joseph’s, now 3-1 at the regional, had won just one NCAA playoff game in eight years prior to this tournament.

The Monks pieced the game together with five pitchers and used some dramatic plays on their way to victory.

Freshman third baseman Mike Pratt hit a three-run homer in the third inning that slammed off the left-field light post.

“I was just so happy,” said Pratt. “I knew (the pitcher) was struggling and was waiting to get a good pitch.”

But nothing topped the play of the game came in the eighth: a diving catch by right fielder Todd Keneborus that ended a bases-loaded rally by the Lyons with the score 9-7.

Two or three runs would have scored had the ball off the bat of Paul Maloguti fallen in safely.

“I knew off the bat I might have a play, but diving catches aren’t usually my thing,” said Keneborus, who went 2 for 3 with one RBI. “I was thinking of what would happen if I didn’t catch it. I dove, looked down and was glad it was in there.”

His teammates were elated.

“When it left the bat I was watching him run to the ball,” said first baseman Ben Grant-Roy, who went 4 for 5 with two RBI. “After he came up with it I just stopped, looked at him and said ‘catch of the year.’ It was exuberance.”

St. Joseph’s trailed 4-0 before scoring five in the bottom of the third. Left fielder Ian Lee drove in two runs with a single to right before Pratt came to the plate and slammed a fastball out to make it 5-4.

The Monks added three runs in the fifth off three hits, two errors and one hit batsman, and got another run in the seventh.

The Lyons rallied for three runs in the eighth off four hits, a sacrifice fly and a walk.

Wheaton nearly broke the game open before Keneborus ended the inning with his catch.

Reliever Chris Nanof got the win and Adam Stanclift got the save.

Since dropping their tournament opener 12-3 to Tufts, the Monks have won three straight while facing elimination: 5-4 over No. 5 Worcester State in 12 innings on Thursday, followed by Friday’s wins against Western New England and Wheaton.

In the first game, Westbrook’s Andrew Keirstead gave up just two earned runs in 5â…“ innings to lead the Monks to an upset win.

“I’ve kind of been waiting for this all year,” said Keirstead.

 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at: [email protected]