HARWICH, Mass. – Chad Rafferty has shown why he is the ace of the St. Joseph’s College pitching staff many times this season.

On Wednesday, Rafferty, a sophomore right-hander, struck out 11 and pitched out of two major jams to lead the sixth-seeded Monks to a 4-2 upset over No. 3 Wheaton in the first round of the NCAA Division III New England regional.

“As he goes, we go,” said St. Joseph’s catcher Ian Lee. “He really set the tone. We couldn’t have started this any better way. This is huge.

“Last year we had a good run, but it’s so hard to come out of the losers’ bracket.”

The Monks (31-13) will play again at 8 tonight against Western New England, which held Husson to four hits in a 2-0 opening-round win.

“Chad pitched out of some tough situations and that’s what you want from your No. 1 guy,” said Monks Coach Will Sanborn. “This was the next step (for him), and getting that first win is always a big thing.

“There’s so many ways to win a tournament like this; the nicest way is to start with a win.”

The Monks got nine hits off four pitchers and had to come from behind after Wheaton took a 2-1 lead in the first inning.

Nate Martin scored on a single by Mike Pratt in the third to tie the game, 2-2.

Martin had walked and moved to second on a sacrifice by Chris Campbell.

Dan Achorn doubled to drive in Alex Markakis with the go-ahead run in the sixth inning, and Lee singled to score Campbell with an insurance run in the ninth after Rafferty got himself out of a wild eighth inning.

Sam Munley reached on an error and moved to third when a throwing error on a bunt by Dan Gusovsky left runners at the corners with no outs.

Rafferty got the next batter to fly out to left field. Lee then foiled a squeeze attempt by tagging out Munley trying to score, and Rafferty got a groundout to end the inning as a roar erupted from the Monks’ dugout.

“I can’t say enough about what Ian Lee does to keep me calm and going out there,” said Rafferty. “Early, my fastball and curve were working and my slider and change-up came alive later.

“I just felt like the guys were counting on me and I know I have a good defense.”

Rafferty also got out of a jam in the fifth.

After a leadoff strikeout, he gave up back-to-back singles, then moved the runners to second and third on a wild pitch before walking Munley intentionally to load the bases.

But Rafferty settled and got two outs on fly balls to end Wheaton’s rally.

“He is a tremendous competitor,” said Wheaton Coach Eric Podbelski. “He was every bit as good as advertised.

“We got two runs right away but he never flinched, shut us down for a few innings and with a few opportunities to win he got out of the inning. You’ve got to tip your cap.”

After Rafferty gave up two walks with one out in the ninth, Joe Gruntkosky relieved and got a fly ball to center before a game-ending strikeout.

The win, said Pratt, started with Rafferty.

“We know he’s a gamer,” said Pratt. “He really proved his guts. You can’t teach that.”

Sanborn told his team to celebrate the win briefly before moving on to tonight’s game.

“This thing is wide open,” he said. “Some years you get that dominant team. This year it’s anyone’s to win.” 

Staff Writer Jenn Menendez can be contacted at 791-6426 or at:

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