Leemhuis' walk-off sacrifice fly lifts Patriots over Fairfield, 7-6

Junior third baseman Blaise Fernandez awaits a pitch in Friday's game against Fairfield (Photo courtesy of Mason Athletics).
Junior third baseman Blaise Fernandez awaits a pitch in Friday's game against Fairfield (Photo courtesy of Mason Athletics).

When Fairfield University’s Alex Witkus crossed home plate in the ninth inning, those in attendance at Spuhler Field in Fairfax let out a collective groan on Friday.

The run scored by Witkus gave the Stags a 6-5 lead — their first of the game — after the George Mason Patriots had scored all five of their runs in the first inning. But the Patriots would show resilience as they rallied back in the home half to steal a 7-6 win from the Stags.

Mason (5-3) came out swinging in the first as they jumped all over Fairfield (2-2) starting pitcher Tucker Panciera, scoring five runs on six hits, including a two-run home run by Tommy Vitaletti.

“I kind of had a feeling he was going to come back with an off-speed pitch,” Vitaletti said. “He left a change-up up in the zone, on the inner half, I just turned on it.”

The Patriots received another quality start from red-shirt junior Anthony Montefusco.

“I thought Monte was outstanding once again,” said Mason coach Bill Brown. “I thought his command was outstanding, he kept hitting spots but counts were carrying. The problem is when that happens you know he’s going to be out earlier than he probably should be.”

Montefusco lasted five and two-thirds innings, striking out four, while scattering four hits and walking three batters. It wasn’t until the sixth inning that Montefusco found himself in some trouble.

After a two-out walk of Fairfield first baseman Anthony Hajjar, a bounding ball to Patriot first baseman, junior Tucker Tobin, took a bad hop allowing batter Ryan Plourde to reach first  safely. Tobin would be charged with an error on the play.

The Stags collected two one-run singles before Montefusco, who exited with two unearned runs, was relieved by freshman Mark Maksimow.

Maksimow closed out the sixth and finished his afternoon with a three-up-three-down seventh inning.

Redshirt sophomore Taylor Hunt relieved Maksimow in the eighth. Hunt allowed a lead-off single to Rob LoPinto and surrendered a one-out walk to Plourde. With two runners on, Jack Giannini smacked a one-run single to right field. Red-shirt junior Sean Cabrera relieved Hunt following the Giannini single.

After striking out Sebastian Slavo, Cabrera threw a wild pitch which allowed Plourde to score. Cabrera shook his head as he headed back to the mound and redeemed himself by striking out Jake Salpietro to end the inning.

At the end of the eighth Mason clung to a 5-4 lead, before the dramatic ninth inning.

“You could feel it coming,” Brown said. “That team is not going to have two hits and just roll over and die.”

Sophomore John Williams entered the game looking for his second consecutive save.

After striking out Keith Skinner, Williams allowed back-to-back singles to pinch hitter Mike Bennett and Witkus. Williams recorded the second out when LoPinto struck out swinging, then Hajjar and Plourde recorded back-to-back one-run singles giving the Stags a 6-5 advantage.

But the Patriots would not be denied victory.

Vitaletti led off the home half with a four-pitch walk, setting the table for senior Duncan Satherlie, who followed up with a sharp double down the right field line that ricocheted off Hajjar’s mitt. Tobin was intentionally walked to load the bases.

With one out, junior Blaise Fernandez hit a sacrifice fly center field, scoring Vitaletti. Redshirt junior Josh Leemhuis won the game for the Patriots with a sac-fly of his own to right field. Satherlie scored and the Patriots rejoiced.

“[Winning on sac-flies] it’s awesome,” said Vitaletti, who finished his day going 1-4 with a homer, his first of the season, two RBIs and two runs scored. “The last practice we had that was a big thing, we’ve been leaving too many guys on base and we practiced getting guys in.”

Mason’s victory was their fifth consecutive after starting the season 0-3. The series continues on March 2 with a 2 p.m start. The probable pitchers for Saturday’s matinee are junior Jared Gaynor for Mason and E.J. Ashworth for Fairfield.

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