Army Hosts Holy Cross In PL Championship Series

Cody Murtle

May 17, 2012

WEST POINT, N.Y. - For the third time in four seasons, and the ninth time in program history, the Army baseball team will participate in the Patriot League Championship Series. The top-seeded Black Knights will host the second-seeded Holy Cross Crusaders in a best-of-three series to determine the conference champion.

Army swept fourth-seeded Lafayette in the Patriot League Tournament semifinals last weekend to advance to the conference finals for the seventh time since 2000. Holy Cross, meanwhile, swept second-seeded Navy in the semifinal round to earn a date with the Black Knights.

Army (39-12) and Holy Cross (32-20) will play a doubleheader on Sunday (May 20) beginning at 12 p.m., with a single game scheduled for Monday (May 21) at 1 p.m. (if necessary). All games in the Patriot League Championship Series will be nine-inning contests.

Video streamed broadcasts of this weekend's action will be available via ITT Exelis Knight Vision. Nikolai Busko will provide the play-by-play of Sunday's doubleheader, with Rich DeMarco scheduled to handle those duties on Monday.

Live stats for all three games will be offered through GameTracker by logging onto Army's official athletics website ( Twitter updates will also be provided throughout the weekend (@ArmyAthletics).

It marks just the second time that Army and Holy Cross are meeting in the Patriot League Tournament. The Black Knights defeated the Crusaders, 2-1, in the 2009 conference semifinals en route to their most recent league title.

Army, which has compiled a 21-13 all-time mark in the conference tournament, is in search of its sixth Patriot League Championship. The Black Knights captured conference titles in 1997, 2000, 2004, 2005 and 2009.

Army used the long ball to rally from a 6-0 deficit and defeat Lafayette, 8-7, in the first game of the doubleheader. J.T. Watkins and Mark McCants both crushed two-run homers to ignite the Black Knights' six-run sixth inning and lift the team to victory. Army then jumped on top, 2-0, in the first inning of the nightcap and never looked back en route to a 6-3 victory.



Watkins went 4-for-7 with five RBI to pace Army offensively in the two-game sweep. Gunnar Carroll earned saves in both ends of the doubleheader to nail down the Black Knights' second straight trip to the PLCS.

Kevin McKague leads Army in most of the major offensive categories, topping the club with a .394 batting average, a .561 slugging percentage, 15 doubles, five home runs, 42 RBI, 101 total bases and a .493 on-base percentage. McKague also ranks among the team leaders with 35 runs scored, 22 walks and 11 stolen bases. The two-way standout also leads the Black Knights' pitching staff with a 1.46 earned run average and ranks second with five saves.

Harold Earls leads the squad with 21 stolen bases and ranks second with a .346 batting average. Earls lists second with a .434 on-base percentage and ranks third with a .401 slugging percentage.

Zach Price paces the club with 46 runs scored, ranks second with 15 stolen bases and 27 walks, and lists third with a .321 batting average and a .429 on-base percentage.

Despite missing 10 games this spring, J.T. Watkins has supplied some of Army's best power numbers. The team's starting catcher, who is batting .308, has hit nine doubles, one triple and four homers, while driving in 27 runs. Cody Murtle, who has ripped eight doubles and four home runs, lists second on the team with 40 RBI.

Army's offense, which averages 5.8 runs per contest, leads the Patriot League with a .291 team batting average.

The Black Knights' pitching staff brings an impressive 3.22 earned run average into this weekend's series. Ten Army hurlers currently boast ERAs below 3.70.

Chris Rowley leads the team's rotation with an 11-0 record and a 1.79 earned run average. He also paces the squad with 71 strikeouts in 85.2 innings over 13 starts. Logan Lee (7-2, 3.67 ERA), Nick Dignacco (7-2, 3.26 ERA) and Alex Robinett (3-1, 2.61 ERA) have been consistent starters for Army this season as well.

The back end of the Black Knights' bullpen has been led lately by Carroll, who tops the team with eight saves. Carroll, who shows a 1-0 record to go along with a 2.66 ERA, also paces the relief corps with 37 strikeouts and 47.1 innings over 19 appearances. Manny Fernandez (4-0, 1.88 ERA) has been solid out of the bullpen this season.

Holy Cross relied on its strong pitching staff to reach this weekend's Patriot League Championship Series. The Crusaders limited Navy to seven hits over 19 innings en route to the two-game sweep.

Holy Cross' offense, which averages 5.2 runs per game, features nine players with at least 20 runs batted in. Mike Ahmed, who is batting .303, leads the way with 13 doubles, three triples, seven home runs, 99 total bases, a .508 slugging percentage and 27 RBI.

Brandon Cipolla, who carries a .311 batting average into Sunday's twinbill, has nine doubles, four homers and 27 runs batted in. Patrick Puentes paces the Crusaders with a .352 batting average, while also accounting for six doubles, two homers and 21 RBI.

The Holy Cross pitching staff boasts a 3.97 team earned run average. Nate Koneski, who leads the Crusaders with seven wins, 77 strikeouts, 68 innings pitched and a 2.12 ERA, is the unquestioned ace of the staff. Donny Murray (4-0, 3.14 ERA) and Tom Marra (4-3, 3.12 ERA) have also proven to be strong options as starting pitchers in 2012.

Holy Cross closer John Colella leads the team with 11 saves and 27 appearances, and ranks second on the staff with five wins, 50 strikeouts and a 2.13 ERA.

Army and Holy Cross have met 94 times in a series that began in 1911. The Black Knights hold a 63-29-2 edge in the all-time series after splitting the four-game series with the Crusaders during the regular season. Army has compiled a 29-9 record against Holy Cross over the last nine years. The Black Knights are also 2-1 versus the Crusaders in Patriot League Tournament action.

The winner of the PLCS will earn an automatic berth into the NCAA Regionals, which will be played June 1-4 at 16 on-campus sites across the country.

Weekend Schedule
Sunday, May 20

#2 Holy Cross vs. #1 Army, 12 p.m.
#1 Army vs. #2 Holy Cross, 2:30 p.m.

Monday, May 21 (if necessary)
#2 Holy Cross vs. #1 Army, 1 p.m.