Augusta Free Press

Diodato the hero as #9 VMI walks off against #5 Wofford, 6-5

Michael Diodato bounced a RBI single up the middle with two outs in the 10th inning, sending the ninth-seeded VMI Keydets past the fifth-seeded Wofford Terriers in walk-off fashion, 6-5, in game six of the 2017 SoCon Baseball Championship, presented by Holston Gases.

Collin Fleischer led off the bottom of the 10th with a sharp single to center field against Wofford’s Reece Maniscalco. Jake Huggins then hit into a fielder’s choice, a play where Wofford shortstop Alex Malsch could not get the ball out of his glove and second baseman Reed Massey elected to hold the ball, rather than try to make the double play pivot.

Ryan Hatten pinch-ran at first and Matt Dunlevy followed with a single, putting two men on. Josh Hollifield singled to center, but on a heavily disputed play at the plate, Hatten was thrown out by Wofford center fielder Kody Ruedisili for the second out. Diodato was the next batter. He had struck out all four times up previously, but on this occasion, he bounced a 3-2 pitch up the middle just beyond Malsch’s reach for the game-winning hit.

The Keydets (24-33) advance in the tournament and will play the loser of Friday’s noon game, #7 ETSU and #3 UNCG, at 7 p.m. Friday evening.

Wofford’s season ends with a 28-30 mark.

Offensively, the Keydets pounded out three homers, including Fleischer’s 16th of the season. That tied him with Tyler Tharp’s 16 this season and Greg Weddle’s 16 in 1985 for the second-most in school history, and moved him into sole possession of third place on VMI’s all-time home run list with 35.

Mack Nathanson had three hits to lead Wofford.

The Keydets jumped ahead early against Wofford starter Austin Higginbotham, when Jacob Jaye led off with a single and Matt Pita followed with a homer to left, staking Brandon Barbery to a 2-0 lead. It was Pita’s third first-inning extra-base hit in as many games in this tournament.

Wofford got a run back in the second, and took the lead in the fourth. Massey led off with a single and Max McDougald followed with one as well. A sacrifice bunt moved up the runners, and Brett Rodriguez followed with a grounder to second base. Diodato fielded the ball, but threw wildly to first base and the ball went into the first base dugout, allowing two runs to score and Wofford to take a 3-2 lead.

The Keydets rallied in the sixth, when Peyton Maddox led off with a triple, just the second of his career. Fleischer followed with a long home run to center field, a shot that appears to bounce off of one of the porches on the apartment building beyond the outfield fence.

That gave the Keydets a 4-3 lead, but Wofford was able to tie the game in the seventh. An error by first baseman Jake Huggins on a Zak Kent pickoff attempt moved a runner into scoring position, and that runner scored on a RBI hit by Nathanson to knot the score at 4.

Huggins atoned for that miscue in the eighth, and did so in impressive fashion, going opposite field for a one-out, solo homer that gave the Keydets the lead once again at 5-4.

Ryan Bennett – who had entered the game in the eighth – came out for the ninth as well, but McClain Bradley led off with a triple. Brett Hash struck out, but Carson Waln was hit by a pitch and Nathanson dribbled a swinging bunt in front of the plate to score Bradley, tying the game once again. Bennett recovered to strike out Massey and get McDougald on a ground out, however.

The Keydets did not score in the bottom of the ninth, and the game went to extras. In the 10th, Bennett gave up a double to a hustling Malsch on a hot shot that bounced off Jacob Jaye’s glove and rolled into shallow left.

Pinch-hitter Ty Reginelli, however, failed to execute a sacrifice bunt and popped out for the first out of the inning. After a walk, Bradley drilled a sinking liner into right-center field, but a charging Pita made a spectacular diving catch to save at least one run. Bennett then retired Hash, ending the inning and setting the stage for the walk-off win.

On the mound, Bennett (6-1) picked up the win as he allowed one run in three innings, while Maniscalco gave up the winning run on four hits in one inning of work and dropped to 1-2.

With the win, VMI becomes the first #9 seed to win two games in the SoCon Championship since Wofford won five games, en route to the championship, as a nine-seed in 2007. It is also the first time VMI baseball has won more than one game in a conference tournament since 2003, when Thursday’s hero Diodato was five years old, and it allows Jonathan Hadra to join Chris Finwood (six) and Scott Gines (three) as the only VMI head coaches with at least three postseason victories in their time at the Institute.

Once again, VMI baseball returns to action Friday night in Greenville facing either #7 ETSU or #3 UNCG in an elimination game. First pitch is set for 7 p.m.