May 12, 2012
WEST POINT, N.Y. -
For the second year in a row, and the third time in four seasons, the Army baseball team is headed back to the Patriot League Championship Series. The top-seeded Black Knights reached the conference finals by sweeping aside fourth-seeded Lafayette in a semifinal series played under absolutely beautiful conditions on Saturday afternoon at Doubleday Field.
Army (39-12) overcame a six-run deficit en route to an 8-7 victory in the opening game, and the Black Knights held off the Leopards (14-37-1) in taking a 6-3 decision in the nightcap.
Army advances to the PLCS, where the Black Knights will face second-seeded Holy Cross in a best-of-three series next weekend at West Point. The Crusaders swept third-seeded Navy on Saturday, taking a 1-0 decision in the opener and securing a 4-2 win in 10 innings in the nightcap. The dates for next weekend's Patriot League Championship Series are still to be determined.
The Black Knights trailed 6-0 in the fourth inning of the opener before storming back. Army plated a single run in the bottom of the fourth before scoring six times in the sixth to take the lead. J.T. Watkins was 2-for-3 with three runs batted in, and Mark McCants went 1-for-4 with four RBI to ignite Army's comeback. Watkins and McCants both hammered two-run homers during the Black Knights' six-run uprising.
Army jumped on top, 2-0, in the first inning of the nightcap and never trailed en route to the series sweep. Lafayette pulled to within one run on three different occasions, but the Leopards could not get over the hump. Daniel Cortes went 3-for-4 with two runs scored and one RBI to spark Army's 10-hit attack. Watkins and Kevin McKague combined to go 4-for-5 with two runs scored and two RBI.
"I thought Lafayette played very well today," said Army head coach Joe Sottolano. "They swung the bats well, they defended well and they pitched well. They played aggressive baseball all the way around, and my hat goes off to them. In order to get here, they had take three games from a great team (Bucknell), and they did that.
"It took a great team effort by our guys to get past Lafayette today," added Sottolano. "We talked as a group right before that six-run sixth inning, and just told them to stay loose. We needed to have good, consistent at-bats, and we did that. The guys played loose when the pressure was on, and came through with a lot of big hits."
Watkins went 4-for-7 with a home run and five runs batted in to lead Army to the sweep. McKague and Cortes also collected four hits apiece to help pace the Black Knights' offensive attack.
"J.T. came up with some big knocks in key situations today, and that was great to see," said Sottolano. "There have been a lot of guys who have stepped up throughout the season, and today it was J.T.'s turn. I'm very proud of him."
Chris Rowley (11-0) labored through seven innings in the first game to earn the victory for the Black Knights. The junior right-hander yielded a season-high six runs on seven hits and three walks. He struck out five, but also hit four batters. Gunnar Carroll came out of the bullpen and worked the final two frames to post the save.
Logan Lee (7-2) picked up the victory in the nightcap, allowing just three runs on 10 hits over 6.1 innings of work. He struck out six and walked three. Manny Fernandez tossed two scoreless innings and Carroll got the final two outs to nail down his second save of the day.
"I thought Gunnar threw the ball well in both games today," said Sottolano. "He threw three pitches for strikes and was able to work both sides of the plate. We have a lot of confidence in Gunnar, whenever he takes the ball for us. I'm very, very proud of him."
Lafayette took a 2-0 lead in the first inning of the opening game on Parker Hills' two-run single. The Leopards extended their advantage to 5-0 in the top of the second, scoring three runs without the aid of a hit. They took advantage of three walks and two hit batsmen during the frame. Lafayette made it 6-0 in the fourth inning on Thomas Dunleavy's RBI single.
Army began its comeback in the bottom half of the fourth on McCants' RBI groundout. McKague led off the frame with a double, moved to second on a balk and scampered home when McCants bounced out to shortstop.
After failing to score in the bottom of the fifth, Army pushed across six runs on six hits in the sixth inning to surge in front, 7-6. The Black Knights sent 12 men to the plate during the uprising, chasing Lafayette starter John Gentile from the contest.
McKague led off the inning with a base hit and he scored in front of McCants, who crushed a two-run homer over the wall in right center field. The two-run shot, which was McCants' second career home run, pulled Army to within 6-3. Then, after Cody Murtle flew out, Harold Earls singled and scored when Watkins drove an inside pitch over the fence in left field. Matthew Carter followed with a double, Zach Price walked and Cortes hit a single to load the bases for McKague, who was hit by a pitch to force home the game-tying run. McCants then drew a bases-loaded walk to give Army the lead.
Army manufactured an insurance run in the seventh to increase its cushion to 8-6. Earls was hit by a pitch, stole second and third, and scored when Watkins singled to left field.
Lafayette made it interesting in the top of the eighth as the Leopards pulled to within 8-7. Andrew Santomauro singled with one out in the inning, stole second and scored on Bobby Fargnoli's RBI single up the middle.
Santomauro went 3-for-4 with four runs scored to lead Lafayette offensively. Parker Hills also collected three hits, going 3-for-5 with two RBI.
Chris Boyce (2-1) was saddled with the loss after yielding one run on one hit and two walks over 0.2 innings.
Army played from in front throughout the second game as the Black Knights took a 2-0 advantage in the top of the first inning. McKague and Watkins hit consecutive two-out singles and Murtle walked to load the bases for Earls, who delivered a clutch two-run single up the middle.
Lafayette got one run back in the bottom of the first on Dunleavy's first home run of the season. The Leopards' right fielder smacked a solo shot over the fence in left field to trim Army's lead to 2-1.
Army regained a two-run cushion in the top of the fifth as the Black Knights scored an unearned run on two hits and one Lafayette error. Cortes singled to begin the inning, moved to second base on an error by the Leopards' left fielder, advanced to third on McKague's sacrifice bunt and scored on Watkins' base hit.
Lafayette pulled to within 3-2 in the bottom of the sixth inning on Santomauro's RBI double. Scott Kelleher began the Leopards' rally with a two-out double and he scored from second base on Santomauro's two-base hit.
Army pushed its lead to 4-2 in the seventh, scoring one run on two hits. Cortes was hit by a pitch to begin the inning, moved to second base on McKague's single, advanced to third on Watkins' sacrifice bunt and scored on Murtle's base hit.
Lafayette drew to within one run for a third time in the bottom of the seventh inning on Kevin McCarville's RBI single. Fargnoli lined a base hit to left field to open the frame, moved to second base on Brad Hopek's single and scored when McCarville grounded a base hit through the left side of the infield.
Army padded its lead with a pair of insurance runs in the eighth to account for the final margin. Alex Jensen and Price both drew free passes with one out and Jensen scored from second base when Cortes lofted a single down the right field line. Then, after McKague was intentionally walked to load the bases, Watkins hit a sacrifice fly to deep right field to score Price from third.
Santomauro, Kelleher and Tim Lazor each registered two hits apiece to pace Lafayette in the nightcap. The Leopards actually outhit Army, 11-10, in the contest.
Lafayette starting pitcher Toby Schwartz (1-4) took the loss for the Leopards, allowing three runs (two earned) on six hits over four-plus innings. He struck out four batters and walked two.
Army will attempt to win the program's sixth Patriot League title next weekend when the Black Knights host Holy Cross. Army has not hoisted the conference's tournament trophy since winning it all in 2009.
Game Notes: Army improves to 74-55-2 all-time versus Lafayette ... the Black Knights have won 11 straight games versus the Leopards dating back to last season ... Army is 8-2 all-time versus Lafayette in the Patriot League Tournament ... the Black Knights have swept the Leopards out of the postseason each of the last two years ... Army is 22-4 versus the Lafayette over the last five seasons ... the Black Knights have posted a school-record 14 doubleheader sweeps this season ... the Black Knights' 39 victories tie the Patriot League and Academy single-season records, which were originally established in 2005 ... Army's 22 home wins represent a single-season mark ... the Patriot League honored its all-conference performers and major award winners prior to the opening contest ... Chris Rowley broke Army's single-season wins record by picking up his 11th victory in the opener ... Rowley moves into sixth place on the Black Knights' single-season ledger for innings pitched (85.2) ... Gunnar Carroll moves into a tie for third place on Army's single-season saves list (eight) ... Carroll also ranks tied for fourth on the program's all-time saves list (10) ... Carroll and Manny Fernandez are now tied for the team lead with 19 appearances this season ... Zach Price moves into a tie for third place on Army's all-time hits list (233) ... Price has appeared in an Academy-record 201 career games ... Price moves into a tie for fifth place on Army's all-time steals list (50) ... Mark McCants matched his career high with four RBI in the opener ... Daniel Cortes equaled his career high with three hits in the nightcap ... Kevin McKague has been hit by a pitch 16 times this season, matching the Academy's single-season record.