Catcher Joey Battaglia's two-run double in the fifth inning was the winning hit and left-hander Ryan Peterson pitched 5.1 innings of shutout relief to give Niagara County Community College a 7-6 win over Oakton, Ill., Community College in the NJCAA Division III championships on Tuesday in Greeneville, Tenn.
With the victory in the afternoon elimination game at Pioneer Park, coach Matt Clingersmith's Thunderwolves advanced to the semifinal round against Rowan College South Jersey Gloucester on Tuesday night. The winner will face undefeated Tyler, Texas, on Wednesday.
Peterson, who was the losing pitcher in NCCC's tournament opener that started on Saturday and was completed Sunday, came on to get the final out of the fourth inning after Oakton had scored four times to take a 6-5 lead.
The former Nichols School pitcher from Orchard Park wasn't overpowering, but he was effective. Peterson allowed only three singles and no walks. He struck out two batters, including Jack Dupuis for the final out of the game.
To close it out in the ninth, Peterson had to face the heart of the Oakton batting order, which had produced five of the Owls' nine hits. He retired the Nos. 3 and 4 hitters on ground balls, but Steele Beatty reached when Cole Laskowski, one of NCCC's batting stars, booted a ground ball at second base. Unfazed, Peterson struck out Dupuis to end it.
Oakton's only lead came after Christian Seegers cleared the bases with a two-run triple in the third inning. That's when Peterson took over as the third NCCC pitcher.
NCCC quickly responded. Zach Evans (Lake Shore) singled to open the fifth and Howard Stuckey also singled. The runners advanced on a sacrifice bunt by Lance Baldensperger before Battaglia (Williamsville North) doubled to left-center field to score the tying and what turned out to be the winning runs.
The Thunderwolves had 13 hits, including two each by Andrew Fairbrother (Williamsville North), Cal Brazier, Laskowski (St. Mary's, Lancaster), Evans and Stuckey. They were helped by five Oakton errors. Two NCCC runs scored on sacrifice flies by Chris Tani and Stuckey.
Liam Reynolds was the starting pitcher for NCCC. He left in favor of Austin Mann (Williamsville North) after Andrew Smart tripled to open the Oakton fourth. Peterson took over later that inning.
RCSJ-Gloucester, the No. 1 seed in the tournament, defeated Owens, Ohio, 9-1, and St. Cloud, Minn., 6-3, before being routed by No. 2 seed Tyler, 16-1, on Monday. Tyler (3-0) has scored 35 runs in its three tournament games. The only close call was a 6-5 win over Coastal Bend, Texas, which NCCC eliminated Sunday afternoon.