WINDSOR, N.J. -- There might have been some soreness in Larry Raynor's right arm today. But there was definitely a smile on his face, because the Towson State senior will have more than two weeks' rest for his next pitching assignment -- in the NCAA tournament.
Raynor personified the Tigers' (27-21-1) charge to their second East Coast Conference championship in four years, as the Cardinal Gibbons product gutted out a 5-4 win over Rider (31-10-1) at Mercer County Park. He struck out six, walked one and scattered 12 hits, but his most impressive statistic was one day's rest.
Raynor pitched the first five innings in Friday's 25-5 bombing of Delaware, leaving with a 17-3 lead. He watched Saturday afternoon's 14-9 conquest of UMBC in the winner's bracket semifinal, spent that evening playing Nintendo Golf, and took the ball again yesterday from coach Mike Gottlieb.
Raynor surrendered homers to Mel Edwards and Joe Cerasi in the sixth, but was still around in the ninth, when the Tigers thwarted a double steal, second baseman Jacen Martinez gunning down the potential tying run at home to end the tourney.
"I have never asked a pitcher to do what I asked Larry to do this weekend," Gottlieb said. "He's just got an awful lot of guts. I've watched him over four years, and he has a knack of getting out of a jam with minimal damage."
Raynor also has a rubber arm. He threw 128 pitches yesterday, but said it was nowhere near what he's done before.
"In my senior year at Gibbons, I threw 202 pitches against Curley," said Raynor, who's from Arbutus. "Beat 'em in 13 innings too, 2-1."
"I'II have a little scoreness after a day like this, but I've never had any arm problems of any kind."
Towson State's record-holder for career saves with eight, Raynor is one of two holdovers from the Tigers' 1988 NCAA team. He was a sophomore when Towson State dropped two disastrous games to Rider on the last day of the ECC tournament, and had a 1.70 ERA but a 2-3 record last year, when the Tigers hit .252 as a team and scored one run in two tournament games. The Tigers upped their team average to .297 yesterday, and Raynor is a robust 7-2.
He got some unexpected support. Alex Yost, a red-shirt freshman from Ambler, Pa., came into the tournament hitting .222. Gottlieb turned the part-time infielder into a full-time DH, and three games later his average is .312. He hit the first two home runs of his life in a 12-run inning against Delaware Friday, and yesterday completed the Tigers' comeback from a 4-1 deficit with a game-winning, RBI triple in the bottom of the eighth. For the weekend, he was 7-for 1-2, with nine RBI.
Gottlieb starts three other freshmen, and all sparkled. Centerfielder Steve Farling was 9-for-15, with eight RBIs, third baseman Chris Massella was 7-for-13, with six RBIs, and catcher Steve Tiller doubled before Yost's tournament-winner. Three sophomores were just as productive, as Jay Logwood, a junior out of Randallstown, homered on the first pitch in the bottom of the eighth to tie it at 4-4.
None of the Tigers made the all-star team that was announced before the tournament, including junior first baseman Erik Sheetz, who has 16 home runs.
"When you've been in a league for a couple of years, people know you," Gottlieb said. "Reputation, unfortunately, means something, but I like this team just fine. We've got the right mix."
The Tigers, most likely a bottom seed, will surely be a mystery to whichever national power they draw in the 48-team NCAA field two weeks from today.
NCAA regional play begins May 22, and Towson State will most likely be seeded sixth and last in one of the eight region tournaments.