JOHNSTOWN - Salisbury grad Brian Ernst threw eight innings without allowing an unearned run on just two days rest, and East Stroudsburg University used a five-run fifth inning to secure its first PSAC baseball championship since 1971 with a 7-1 win over defending champion West Chester on Saturday at Point Stadium.
The Warriors (33-16), who set a school record with their 33rd win, earned the PSAC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division II Tournament thanks in large part to an outstanding effort by Ernst, who was named the PSAC Tournament MVP.
ESU went 4-0 in the tournament with Ernst starting the opener on Wednesday against Gannon. He went 5.2 innings in an 8-5 win and was lifted after a lightning delay of four hours, 13 minutes which allowed him to return on short rest on Saturday.
Ernst led ESU offensively and on the mound, going 8-for-16 with two RBI and four runs scored at the plate, and threw 13.2 innings on the mound, allowing just four earned runs and striking out 13. He was 4-for-5 along with his 5.2 inning stint in the win over Gannon.
ESU will be included in the national field for the second time in three years when the NCAA Division II Tournament selections are announced on Sunday night at 10 p.m. on ncaa.com. The Warriors finished third in the Atlantic Region in 2011.
The six-team Atlantic Regional will begin on Friday at a site to be determined. Winston-Salem (CIAA) and Concord (WVIAC) received their conference's automatic bids, and Millersville and Seton Hill are expected to be included as well based on last week's regional rankings, leaving one at-large spot still available.
West Chester (25-24-1), the defending national champion, came up one game short of returning to the NCAA Tournament. The Golden Rams won two extra-inning games against Kutztown last Saturday to earn the PSAC East's fourth and final playoff spot, then went 3-0 this week before falling to the Warriors.
Ernst, ESU's No. 1 starter and a three-time All-PSAC East utility selection, struck out nine and walked three against West Chester, getting better as the game went on. After walking two in the first inning, he threw 1-2-3 innings in the second, fourth and eighth and stranded nine of 10 WCU base runners.
* ESU won its fifth PSAC championship in school history and first since 1971. The Warriors won their second tournament championship - the 1971 tournament was only the second contested in the PSAC. ESU previously won championships under the Saylor Rating System in 1957, 1963 and 1969.
* The Warriors advanced with wins over Gannon (8-5), Millersville (6-2) and California (7-4), while West Chester has wins over California (5-0), Kutztown (3-0) and Millersville (14-8).
* ESU's previous team championship, the 2012 men's basketball title, also came against West Chester. The Warriors won 90-85 at WCU on Saturday, March 3, 2012.
* ESU was the No. 3 seed in the PSAC East, and West Chester was the No. 4 seed. The PSAC East went 4-0 in the first round of games against the PSAC West. California's 12-7 win over Kutztown on Friday morning was the only win for the PSAC West over the PSAC East. Eastern division schools were 6-1 against their western counterparts.
* Ernst has 82 strikeouts, the 2nd-most in school history, in 60.2 innings this season. He didn't pitch from March 2 to March 30 due to injury before returning to go 4-1 with a 1.69 ERA, .188 opponents average, 67 strikeouts, 18 walks and 33 hits allowed in 48.0 innings in the last six weeks.
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- Lehigh Valley 69 News