By Christian Anderson, Army Athletic CommunicationsMay 20, 2013
WEST POINT, N.Y. (May 20, 2013) -- The Army baseball team is heading back to the NCAA Regionals for the second consecutive season as the third-seeded Black Knights swept top-seeded Holy Cross to win the Patriot League Championship Series May 19 at Fitton Field in Worcester, Mass.
Senior pitcher Chris Rowley tossed a complete game to lead Army (29-21) to a 9-4 victory in the opening contest, and sophomore designated hitter Mark McCants delivered a walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning of the nightcap as the Black Knights posted a 5-4 win to complete the sweep.
"I think today's performance a testament to how much this young team has developed this season," Army head coach Joe Sottolano said. "It's a testament to their toughness and their belief. I want to thank the entire West Point community for its commitment to us; it truly is a team and a family, and it shows. I'd like to thank our fans for coming out here today as well. I also want to thank the coaches and the players; everyone bought in, and we have a championship to show for it."
The Black Knights will learn of their NCAA Regional destination on May 27, when the entire 64-team field is unveiled at noon on ESPNU. It will mark Army's fifth NCAA appearance in the last 10 seasons, and sixth overall.
Freshman second baseman Grant Van Orden went 3-for-3 with three RBI, and junior first baseman Patrick Mescher was 2-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored to help spark Army's offense in the first game.
McCants, freshman center fielder Jacob Page and senior catcher Andrew Johnson each posted two hits apiece as the Black Knights exploded for nine runs.
Rowley (9-3) scattered 11 hits and struck out four batters en route to his second straight complete-game victory on the mound for the Black Knights.
The Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player, Rowley retired eight batters in a row at one point and allowed just two hits between the second and seventh innings.
"I thought Chris was outstanding today," Sottolano said. "He kept his composure the entire game and really battled for us out there. Chris set the tone in the first game, and was in control throughout."
Sophomore third baseman Harold Earls went 4-for-5 with four runs scored, and McCants finished 3-for-5 with three RBI and one run scored to pace Army's offense in the second game.
Earls, who finished a home run shy of the cycle, singled leading off the bottom of the ninth inning and eventually scored when McCants lined a two-out base hit down the left field line.
"Harold set the tone in the second game with that triple in the first inning, and then he doubled his next time up," Sottolano said. "Mark was obviously very clutch today as well; he came through with big hits in both games."
Sophomore pitcher Brian Hapeman (2-1) earned the victory on the mound for the Black Knights in the nightcap after tossing 3.1 innings of scoreless relief.
"Brian settled down after getting out of the sixth inning, and he was in total command out there on the mound," said Sottolano of his sophomore reliever. "Brian has come a long way this season; he has worked hard and made tremendous improvements."
Army took a 3-0 lead in the top of the first inning as the Black Knights put together a two-out rally against Holy Cross starter Tom Marra (4-5).
The first two Army batters struck out, but sophomore shortstop Alex Jensen walked and McCants singled through the right side of the infield to put runners on first and second. Mescher then came through with an RBI single to center field, and Page delivered a two-run double down the right field line to cap the uprising.
Holy Cross got two runs back in the bottom of the first to trim Army's lead to 3-2. Evan Ocello reached on an infield single to begin the inning, moved to second base on Andrew Barry's base hit, took third when Patrick Puentes bounced out to first base and scored on Jordan Enos' groundout to shortstop.
Barry, who moved around to third base on the consecutive groundouts, scored when Mike Ahmed reached on an infield single.
Marra and Rowley both settled down after the first inning, and neither team was able to push across another run until the top of the seventh when the Black Knights batted around and scored five runs on three hits and two Holy Cross errors to extend its lead to 8-2. Van Orden's two-run single capped the rally, which also included an RBI single by Johnson.
Holy Cross made it 8-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning on Ahmed's base hit, but the Black Knights got that run back in the top of the ninth on Van Orden's run-scoring single. The Crusaders capped the scoring in the bottom of the ninth on Puentes' RBI single.
Puentes and Barry each finished 3-for-5 to lead Holy Cross offensively. Ahmed and Ocello both collected two hits, with Ocello scoring a pair of runs and Ahmed totaling two RBI.
Marra permitted three runs (two earned) on five hits and three walks in six innings. He had four strikeouts.
Holy Cross stranded the bases loaded in the top of the first inning in the nightcap, and Army took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the frame as Earls tripled over the head of Ocello in right field with one out and scored when McCants hammered a triple of his own into the gap in right center field.
The Crusaders tied the score at 1-1 in the top of the third inning on Brandon Cipolla's RBI double. Ahmed reached on a fielding error, stole second base and scored when Cipolla ripped a line drive into the gap in left center field.
Army reclaimed the lead in the bottom of the third, scoring an unearned run to establish a 2-1 advantage. Earls doubled to right center field leading off the inning and scored when Ahmed committing a throwing error after fielding Jensen's sacrifice bunt.
Holy Cross knotted the score at 2-2 in the top of the fifth inning as the Crusaders scored a run without the aid of a hit. HC took advantage of three walks and one hit batsman to plate the game-tying run.
The Black Knights responded in the bottom of the fifth with two runs on two hits to grab a 4-2 lead. Earls singled to begin the inning, stole second and scored when McCants grounded an RBI single through the drawn-in infield. McCants then advanced to third base on Mescher's base hit and scored when Page lifted a sacrifice fly to center field.
The Crusaders rallied again in the top of the sixth inning, scoring a pair of runs to tie the game at 4-4.
Hapeman and Holy Cross reliever John Colella (2-4) held both offenses at bay in the seventh or eighth innings, setting the stage for Army's ninth-inning dramatics.