WORCESTER -- WPI baseball got some late-inning heroics from senior first baseman Alex Venditti (Newton, MA) to beat Wheaton, 4-2, in the first game of a best-of-three NEWMAC Tournament semifinal series on Saturday at Clark.
However, the second-seeded Engineers couldn't pull off a sweep of the No. 3 seed Lyons, falling by a 7-4 score in an 11-inning thriller in the second game to force a decisive game three back at Granger Turf Field at 11am on Sunday. The contest was shifted two hours earlier than originally scheduled due to forecasted rain.
In game one, Venditti blasted a two-run homer over the center field wall in the bottom of the sixth, also scoring Nick Comei (Haverhill, MA) to break a 2-2 tie.
Junior right-hander Mike Vaitkunas (Auburn, MA) tossed a complete game on the mound to guide WPI to victory. It was Vaitkunas' third straight complete game and sixth consecutive start tossing at least eight innings.
The 5-foot-9 Vaitkunas allowed two runs in the first inning before settling in to finish out the game with 8-2/3 scoreless innings.
Wheaton started out the game with straight hits, beginning with center fielder Jimmy Smith (Worcester, MA) singling to center.
Joshua LaJoie (Somers, CT) and Matt Lavanchy (Walpole, MA) also followed with base hits and then Justin Silvestro (Waltham, MA) doubled to the gap in left center to bring home Smith and LaJoie and spot the Lyons a 2-0 lead.
Vaitkunas held Wheaton to just three hits the rest of the game.
Meanwhile, WPI got both those runs back in the bottom of the second inning. Freshman Steven Gallagher (Coventry, RI), who went 2 for 4 overall, led of the frame with solo shot to left center to split the lead in half.
Comei (4 for 4) drove in the other run with a hit to center, scoring Evan Lacroix (Methuen, MA) to tie it up at 2-2. Lacroix drew a one-out walk and then advanced to third on a base hit by Vinny D'Ambrosio (Mahopac, NY), who went 3 for 5.
Venditti (2 for 5) broke the deadlock in the sixth inning and Vaitkunas made it stand, facing the minimum 15 batters over the final five innings.
Catcher John Caliri (Hanson, MA) also had a pair of hits in game one.
The second was scoreless through five innings in an early pitchers' duel between the Engineers' Steven D'Agostino (Shrewsbury, MA) and the Lyons' Brady Furdon (Natick, MA).
Wheaton finally put a run on the board after a one-out single by Lavanchy, who then advanced to third on another base hit, this one from Silvestro. Zachary Goodwin-Boyd (Florence, MA) then put down a successful sacrifice bunt to bring Lavanchy across to send the Lyons to a 1-0 advantage.
WPI leveled it at 1-1 in the bottom half of the inning as D'Ambrosio walked and Venditti singled him over to third. D'Ambrosio later came home on a wild pitch.
D'Agostino ran into trouble in the seventh inning, with the Lyons scoring three more runs to jump to a 4-1 lead. Smith, Lavanchy and Goodwin-Boyd all drove in runs in the inning for Wheaton.
The Engineers showed resiliency in the eighth and ninth innings, though, scoring three runs to tie it at 4-4 and force extra innings.
Venditti mashed his second home run of the day, this one to right field, with one out in the eighth inning.
John Mulready (Rockland, MA) followed with a base hit to left and then scored on a single the other way by DJ Ouellette (Watertown, CT) to draw it back to 4-3.
In the next inning, it was Lacroix's turn to homer, leading off the inning with a solo blast to left field to send the game to a deadlock.
Dan Bettigole (South Windsor, CT) and CJ Doskocil (Sterlin, MA) each tossed two scoreless innings in relief of D'Agostino to get the Engineers through the 10th inning, but Wheaton finally rallied to score three runs in the 11th and take the win.
Ryan McKeon (Johnston, RI) hit solo home run in the decisive final inning for the Lyons, while Goodwin-Boyd added a two-run double to set the final score.
Venditti, Lacroix, Oullette, Mulready and Caliri each had two hits in game two for WPI, which will regroup for another shot on Sunday to advance to the NEWMAC Tournament championship series.
Both teams played outstanding defensive as the 20 innings of baseball were error-free with the teams combining for seven doubles on the day, including three by WPI in the opener.