By Howard Goldin
BRONX, NEW YORK, June 4- In the early weeks of the 2012 college baseball season, few Manhattan College rooters would have expected their favorites to be facing the two-time defending NCAA champions, South Carolina, in the first game of the NCAA playoffs on June 1st.
During the off-season, Kevin Leighton, the coach who headed a resurgence of the Jaspers during the past half-dozen years left the college to accept the vacant head coaching position crosstown at Fordham University. He was succeeded at Manhattan by Jim Duffy. Duffy, a standout player at Seton Hall, served as an assistant baseball coach at his alma mater for seven years.
The year started very disappointingly for Duffy and his players as the Jaspers only won one of the first 15 games they played. At that point, things changed. Manhattan won 32 of the remaining 43 contests to capture the MAAC regular season title, the MACC Championship Tournament and enter the NCAA Tournament with a 33-25 mark.
Duffy explained the change, “We just worked really hard, strung together some wins and battled back and figured out what worked.”
Manhattan’s 18-6 record in the MAAC earned it the regular season title for the fourth time in the last five years, missing it only in 2010. The Jaspers were victorious in the conference championship for the second straight year. The only other conference title won by Manhattan was in 2006.
The team was exceptionally comfortable in its own home field, a public park, Van Cortland Park, as it was the only Division I club to go undefeated at home, 18-0, during the 2012 season.
Manhattan dropped its first game in the double elimination MAAC championship, which took place in Troy, New York. The Jaspers then relied on their submarining righty Taylor Sewitt to go all the way to the title.
The senior from Highland Mills, New York won each of Manhattan’s final three contests. He began by hurling a nine-inning shutout. On the following day, he pitched the last two innings without surrendering a run and earned the win after the jaspers came from behind. In the final game he won with an 11 inning relief appearance victory over Canisius. His tournament mark was 22 innings of scoreless pitching during which he threw 296 pitches. His efforts earned him the award as Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.
Manhattan’s reward for winning the MAAC title was a trip to Columbia, South Carolina for the first round of the National Tourney. In the opening contest, the Jaspers were scheduled to meet the two-time defending national champion University of South Carolina Gamecocks.
Sewitt, Manhattan’s starter, entered the game with a scoreless streak of 33.2 innings. Sewitt and South Carolina starter Colby Holmes hooked up in a sterling pitching duel in which neither hurler gave up a hit or a run in the first five innings.
Sewitt’s scoreless streak ended at 39.1 innings Adam Matthews doubled in two of the gamecocks with two out in the sixth. Two more scored in the inning to put South Carolina ahead, 4-0.
Joe Rock of Manhattan singled to left with two out in the eighth. The hit was the first given up by Holmes. The winning pitcher left the game after the eighth having surrendered only one hit and one hit batsman while fanning nine.
Manhattan relievers gave up three runs in the eighth to conclude a 7-0 victory for South Carolina.
The next opportunity for the Jaspers in the double elimination tourney was a Saturday contest against Coastal Carolina. The game was tightly contested during the first five innings as the score stood 1-1.
The Carolina tide covered Manhattan as the Chanticleers scored 10 runs during the next three innings to end the season for the Jaspers.
Although the Jaspers lost both games at the NCAA in South Carolina, Duffy and his players can savor the pride of a MAAC regular season and tournament title and the opportunity to represent the Bronx on the national collegiate baseball stage.