EDITORS NOTE: This is the first in a five part series of the top teams from the past decade in York College Spartan Athletics. Today we look at the 2002 York College baseball team that was an NCAA Tournament regional finalist.
The 2002 York College baseball squad was truly a special group. Nine seniors including a pair of All-Americans made the team one of the most experienced in Spartan history. The team accomplished something no other York baseball team had as they advanced to the Winston-Salem Regional final where they would fall one game short of the NCAA Division III College World Series. That earns this squad the fifth spot in our countdown of the top Spartan teams of the opening decade of the 2000's.
The Spartans opened the season 5-4 after their nine-game southern trip to Atlanta, GA and Daytona Beach, FL. The Green and White felt they had something special early on. Captain and two-time All-American Matt Day recalls the Spartans' early season feelings.
"The year before, we thought we were going to get selected to the NCAA Tournament and we didn't. The mindset we had going into 2002 was that, as senior leaders, we were going to make sure we played well enough to get selected to the tournament. We knew we had the talent but just needed to make sure we played well enough during the year to ensure we weren't left out again."
The Spartans opened their home slate with a walk off win over Dickinson as Luke Pile lifted a sacrifice fly to left, scoring Ashley Swope to post a 7-6 win over the Red Devils.
The Green and White continued to play well entering the conference tournament as they were 18-8 overall and 7-3 in the league heading to the double-elimination tournament. The Spartans eventually fell in the championship game of the tournament so an automatic bid was out of play and the Spartans had to earn their way into the NCAA postseason.
After the disappointment of not winning the conference tournament was dealt with, the Spartans responded like a determined group. York ripped off eight straight wins and went on to finish the regular season 31-13. That was more than good enough to punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament.
York was selected to the Winston-Salem regional in Winston-Salem, NC. York opened the tournament with a familiar foe as they squared off against Salisbury at Wake Forest University. The Green and White captured a big 10-8 win as Travis Gaidos was 3-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored while fellow senior Brent Munch was 2-for-5 with three RBI and two runs scored. York banged out 16 hits en route to the victory.
York then ran into Christopher Newport and the Captains downed the Spartans 17-1, kicking the Green and White into the losers bracket.
"Certainly it was an ugly game for us," stated Day. "However, we knew that we still had the talent to come back and that's ultimately what we did."
The Spartans bounced back with a 6-5 walk off win over Lebanon Valley as they eliminated the Dutchmen. The ninth inning started off with a Day double to right center and he eventually scored on a wild pitch.
That win set the stage for maybe one of the most dramatic wins in Spartan history. The Green and White had to face CNU for the second time in the tournament. The Captains just needed a win to eliminate York but the Spartans would not go down without a fight. York got on the board first in the third inning courtesy of a Gaidos RBI single. The Captains tied the game in the fifth and took a 2-1 lead in the seventh. The Spartans had their back against the wall in the top of the ninth. The Captains got the first two outs before the Spartans got a Swope double to left center. Senior Seth Murphy lined a single to right center, scoring pinch runner Bobby Winter, tying the game at two. After closer Ed Meister came into the game for York and pitched a scoreless ninth, the Green and White got back to work in the tenth as Meister hit a two-out double high off the right centerfield wall. He came home when Munch doubled down the left field line giving York the 3-2 lead. Meister was outstanding in the bottom of the frame as he set the Captains down in order to preserve the win.
York couldn't carry over the magic in the regional final as CNU's Cliff Wester, working on just two days rest, tossed a complete game, five-hitter to lift the Captains to the 2002 College World Series.
"We were a very determined group, and while we were disappointed not to make it to the CWS, we were very proud of what we accomplished," said Day. "Looking back now, it was a magical season with a group of guys that I will never forget."
The Spartans were stocked with seniors and those seniors always had a knack for making the clutch play.
"On any given day, any of our players could step up and make whatever play was needed in that game. Clutch hitting, pitching and defense were the hallmarks of that team. It wasn't just a few guys that performed, it was a clutch feeling that went up and down our lineup. We were truly a team."
The Spartans finished the season with a school record 34 wins and that earns them the fifth spot in our top five count down.