It wasn’t so much a celebration as an attack. The championship dogpile had to start somewhere after shortstop Chris Wasson stepped on second for the final out, so LIU Post catcher Anthony Vaglica got it going with a full-on tackle of reliever Brian Kavanagh next to the mound.
Moments later they were at the bottom of the mass of humanity as the Pioneers reveled their 15-0 ECC baseball title game victory over Bridgeport at NYIT’s Lorenzo Memorial Field.
“We had a lot of confidence coming into this that we were going to do well,” senior Michael Manzione said. “We believed in our lineup. We believed in our pitching. We believed this was going to be how this ended.”
LIU Post attacked the game just as Vaglica’s attack started the merriment. It had freshman Josh Loeschorn, the conference Pitcher of the Year and Rookie of the Year, throwing at the top of his game. And it backed him with plenty of offense early. Gio Ciaccio hit a leadoff homer to right and four batters later Manzione hit a grand slam right center for a 5-0 lead.
Loeschorn went on to pitch seven innings while striking out eight with a slider that he said he could throw “wherever I wanted, at any point and in any count – it got me big swings-and-misses all day.” Andy Camilo’s three-run double in the fourth inning made it 9-0 and Caiccio hit a grand slam in the five-run sixth inning for a 14-0 lead.
LIU Post (36-14) is the ECC champion for the fourth time in the past 12 seasons; and advances via automatic bid to the NCAA Division II baseball tournament. The field will be announced at 10 p.m. on Sunday night; NYIT from the ECC and Adelphi of the Northeast-10 have strong chances for at-large berths.
It also is LIU Post’s last ECC title. LIU’s autumn move to combine the Post and Brooklyn athletic departments will leave a single baseball program, the Division I team that played in Brooklyn and moves to Brookville. A handful of Pioneers might be able to earn scholarships at the higher level of play.
“This is special, especially since it’s our last year in the conference and pretty much as a program. It’s very special,” Manzione said. “Since the merger, this is what we made our motivation: be the best team in the conference and go as far as possible.”
“We had enough motivating factors, obviously,” Pioneers coach Mike Gaffney said. “The seniors kept this team together with the message that we’re capable of doing some big things here. . . . It’s a very bittersweet moment for the program, having all this success and knowing that after the last out we won’t be together anymore.”
LIU Post was the top seed in the four-team tournament by virtue of its 25-3 conference mark. Fourth-seeded Bridgeport (21-29) twice stunned NYIT to reach the title round for the sixth straight season, but again didn’t win the championship.
Gaffney was not surprised at how his Pioneers started the game. He said “these kids are amazing: they are on a mission and us, as coaches, have to get out of the way.”
Where the Pioneers felt good to just be back in the tournament two years ago after a seven-year absence, there is a belief they are capable of much more with this team.
“We’re getting to the tournament knowing that on any given day we can be the best team in it,” Gaffney said. “A few years ago we could be the best team on any given day; now we can be the best team, period. With our starting pitching, our balanced lineup and the way we play great defense – we have all the things you need.