SALEM — The Salem State baseball team knew its defense had to stand strong behind freshman pitcher Sean Buckland in yesterday’s Massachusetts State College Athletic Conference title game against Westfield State.
The Viking fielders did their jobs, committing no errors and Buckland tossed a gem as Salem State captured the MASCAC championship with a 5-0 triumph over the Owls.
Manager Mike Ward’s team captured the regular season MASCAC title earlier in the week and outscored their opponents, 19-4, in three games to win the conference tournament. Now, the Vikings (25-13) earned themselves a berth in the NCAA Division 3 tournament, which will be announced next Sunday. The regional will be played at Whitehouse Field in Harwich from May 15-19.
“It feels great. It’s a great group; they worked hard all season and the times we’ve fallen behind this year, they’ve just continued to grind,” said Ward, whose team claimed their first MASCAC tournament title in seven years.
“Buck has improved as the year’s gone on; he’s learned how to pitch at the collegiate level. We have a lot of faith in him and his stuff. I thought he was relaxed and confident.”
Outfielder Steve Buitkus, a senior captain from Reading who was 2-for-4 with a run and two stolen bases yesterday, was named the tournament’s Most Valuable Player.
Buckland’s confidence must be sky-high right now after pitching his second straight shutout; the left-hander from Lynn gave up just two hits in his previous outing, a win over Tufts just before the end of the regular season.
Yesterday, he was focused on performing for his teammates and the bond they all share.
“I didn’t want to let my senior captains — or any of the seniors — down. I love these guys. I feel like they’re my family,” said Buckland, who allowed just three hits and one walk in nine innings of work against Westfield State. “I got into a nice grove and wasn’t looking at the scoreboard. I just kept pitching until it was over.”