It was in the Spring of 1998 that the Queens College baseball team were last crowned as East Coast Conference Champions — called the New York Collegiate Athletic Conference at the time. Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls were on the verge of completing their last three-peat. News of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal was making its way across televisions in America. “Too Close” by Next could be heard around campus as students blasted the hit R&B song on their CD players. One of those students was Chris Reardon, an All-Conference pitcher for the Knights under Head Coach Ed Tatarian.
Flash forward to 2023, and Reardon is the man at the mantle for the Knights currently in his 10th season as Head Coach of the team. He’s far surpassed his former coach in career wins by over 60, and has led the Knights to just as many conference playoffs appearences as Coach Tatarian. However, there was always one thing Coach Tatarian had over Coach Reardon — a conference title. Reardon the player shared the 1998 conference crown with Coach Tatarian, but Reardon the coach has never won a conference title.
That was until this past week when Coach Reardon and the Knights took down their arch-rival, the Molloy University Lions, to take home the 2023 ECC Championship.
However, it was the way that they did it that makes the end to this story truly special. Going into the playoffs as the third seed, they had to face the number two-seeded St. Thomas Aquinas Spartans in their first game. This game ended up being a slugfest, with the Knights coming out on top 18-14. This win advanced them into the winner’s bracket, where they faced the Lions for the first time. It wasn’t pretty. Being held to only three runs to the Lions’ ten, the Knights were now facing a trip back home to Flushing in the double-elimination style tournament.
That would never happen.
Staring elimination in the face, the Knights etched out a close 14-13 victory over Mercy College immediately following their loss to the Lions. The Knights faced two large deficits in their game against Mercy, trailing 6-2 after the top of the fourth inning and 13-6 after the sixth. However, the Knights were able to come back from both deficits off the bats of nearly every player in the lineup. Defeating Mercy gave the Knights what they truly wanted: a final date with the Lions.
However, it wasn’t just a single date. Because the Lions defeated the Knights earlier in the tournament, they only needed to win one game to win the championship, while the Knights had to win two games to get the crown. The last time the Knights were able to defeat the Lions in back-to-back games? Six years ago in 2017. So, what was Coach Reardon’s message to his team? As All-Conference First Team first baseman Anthony Fontana told Scott Greene, who was representing the ECC Sports Network, after the game: anything’s possible.
The first game of the championship face-off between the Knights and Lions caused a roller coaster of emotions for both sides. Neither team were able to cross home plate through the first three innings, with only a single baseball getting through either defense during this stalemate. However, the Knights blew the top of the lid off in the fourth inning, with five hits and a walk leading to four runs on the scoreboard. Freshman Andrew Ramirez — who was permanently inserted into the lineup late into the season due to multiple injuries in the infield — doubled down the right-field line, allowing Fontana to score. The very next at-bat, catcher Nick Barreiros would send a shot over the left-field wall to give the Knights a 4-0 lead.
The next inning was chaos. All-Conference Second Team designated hitter Matt Filip knocked in a run off a single early, with All-Conference First Team second baseman Marc Cisco reaching on a fielder’s choice allowing Barreiros to score to make it 6-0 Knights. Madness soon broke out. The very next at-bat, ECC Rookie of the Year Jorsixt Jimenez blasted a home run to left field to bring in three runs. Immediately following that, Fontana hit his first dinger of the day to right-center field to give the Knights a commanding 10-0 lead.
The Lions would respond with five runs of their own, coming off of six hits and a walk in the bottom of the sixth inning, with one crucial error costing the Knights. However, the score would remain at 10-5 until the eighth inning where Fontana flied out to right field deep enough for Jimenez to tag up and score. While the Lions would end up scoring two more runs, they eventually ran out of time to try and mount a comeback, losing 11-7 to the Knights. This loss forced a win-or-go-home situation for both teams.
Chasing glory, the Knights came out swinging in the deciding game, scoring six massive runs in the first inning. With a total of five hits and two walks in the inning, the Knights saw every batter in their lineup make an appearance. It started with Jimenez singling, allowing leadoff hitter Jayson Rodopoulos to cross home plate. Fontana was the next batter up, and he crushed one to right field, clearing the bases to give the Knights a 4-0 lead. Four batters later, Teovaldo Estevez grounded out to the shortstop, but gave Juan De La Rosa enough time to cross home plate to make it 5-0 Knights. The same would happen the very next batter, instead it was Colin Diez earning the RBI with Reed Hoskins getting on the scoreboard.
The Knights’ 6-0 lead would last until the top of the third, where ECC Player of the Year Garrett Scavelli homered to left field to erase the donut on the scoreboard for the Lions. Unfortunately for the Knights, they would see a lot of Scavelli over the next three innings. On the backs of Scavelli, two All-Conference First Team honorees (JJ DeVito and Aidan Larkin), and graduate student Jake McCarthy, the Lions took a 8-6 lead. Facing heartbreak, the Knights were unwavering in their pursuit of the big one. In the sixth inning, Fontana flew out deep into center field allowing Joey Patane to score, giving the Knights another run to make it 8-7, but the Knights were still trailing the Lions.
Two innings later, Fontana would become a hero.
With two outs in the bottom of the eighth, and tension so thick you could cut it with a knife, Fontana blasted a home run into straightaway center field that seemed to be in the air for ages before dropping. This was his third home run of the day and second of the game, firmly cementing his legacy in program history. With the score tied 8-8 at the end of the ninth inning thanks to Fontana’s heroics, both teams prepared for extra innings. For just the third time in the conference’s history dating back to 1991, the champion would be decided in extra innings.
Already with four innings pitched under his belt, freshman Christopher Naronis sent the Lions down in order to give the Knights a chance to not only win the championship, but to do so in walk-off fashion. With Cisco flying out to left field, it was on Jimenez to keep the Knights’ championship hopes alive — and he delivered, batting in a double down the right-field line. Learning from the recent past, the Lions intentionally walked Fontana when he came up to the plate, opting to give the Knights an extra runner instead of facing the red-hot first baseman.
Then, magic happened.
In what initially seemed like a routine double play, Rosa hit a grounder to the second baseman where Fontana was easily put out at second as Jimenez began his sprint towards third. However, Rosa was hustling up the first baseline hard — running with a determination that might have rattled the Lions’ infielders enough to force the unthinkable: an error at first base. With the baseball thrown way beyond the first baseman’s glove, Jimenez continued his sprint towards victory with his arms in the air, finally sliding to home to finish the story. Game over.
“All season we long we knew how to battle back from those late games,” Fontana said to Greene following the game. “We have the greatest guys in the country. Molloy’s a great team, they have phenomenal pitchers, a phenomenal staff. We just refuse to lose. We wanted this really badly.” Fontana was named the Most Outstanding Player of the 2023 ECC Baseball Championship after hitting .450 with a double, three home runs, six runs scored, and 10 RBIs in the tournament. His impact on this team can not be understated.
Coach Reardon was asked by Greene what it felt like to coach the Knights to a championship after being a player on the last team to win the big one. Teary-eyed, an emotional Coach Reardon laid it all out for the Flushing Faithful to hear:
“It’s an amazing feeling… I’m emotional right now. I actually pitched the championship game in 98′, and we won. This is what I wanted to do from Day One, to put these guys in a position that I was as a player because it’s the most wonderful feeling in the world. Today we were able to accomplish it,” Coach Reardon said.
The gravity of this win comes from the context. The Lions headed into this tournament as the regular-season champions, winning the last two ECC Championships, with last season’s coming from a two-run win over the Knights in another win-or-go-home game. The Lions have been in every ECC Championship since 2017 except one, with Queens making it to the playoffs three times during that span with two winless exits. The Knights hadn’t been in a championship game since the aforementioned 1998 victory. Additionally, Molloy has been ranked in the Top 10 teams in the Eastern Region by the NCAA all season, while the Knights always floated around that list, never truly getting recognition.
In terms of the current rosters, the Lions had both the ECC Player and Coach of the Year to go alongside an additional five All-Conference First Team players and one Second Team player. They had the most runs, hits, doubles, and RBIs in the ECC with their defense giving up the least amount of runs, walks, and errors. The latter of which came largely from the fact they had two starters make the All-Conference First Team alongside their reliever Richard Gennaro. While the Knights had their fair share of players make the All-Conference teams, no team in the ECC had more representation on the First Team or the top yearly awards than the Lions.
While the Knights were able to finish the story by taming the Lions this past weekend to win their first ECC Championship since 1998, the story of the 2022-23 Queens College baseball team isn’t over yet. After winning the ECC crown, the Knights got an automatic bid into the national NCAA Tournament, being named as the sixth seed in the Eastern Region.
They will face the number three-seeded Le Moyne College Dolphins on Thursday, May 18th at 3:30 p.m. in Delaware.