May 24, 2011
Patriot League Baseball Championship page
Annapolis, Md. - For the first time since 2002, Navy stands as the Patriot League Baseball champion.
The top-seed Mids faced an early 3-0 deficit but took the lead with three runs in the sixth inning and went on to a 5-3 victory over No. 2 seed Army in the decisive game three of the Patriot League Baseball Championship series on Tuesday at Max Bishop Stadium.
Navy (33-23-1) won its sixth Patriot League title, moving one ahead of Army and Bucknell for the most in League history. The Mids earn the Patriot League's automatic bid to the NCAA Regionals, and will find out their opponents and destination when the selections are announced on Monday at 12:30 p.m. on ESPN.
The teams split Monday's doubleheader, with Army squaring the series with a 6-3 win in game two. The Black Knights (22-26) carried that momentum into the early innings of game three. Army scored a pair of runs in the top of the second inning as Brent Peterson and Cody Murtle laced back-to-back two-out RBI singles, and the Black Knights padded their lead to 3-0 in the third inning when Clint Moore doubled home Ben Koenigsfeld.
Navy began its comeback in the bottom of the third, as the Mids loaded the bases with nobody out and pushed a run across when Alex Azor hit into a double play to cut Army's lead to 3-1.
It stayed that way until the bottom of the sixth, when the Mids put together a rally to take the lead for good. Dave Milanes and Jeff Bland singled and Greg Dupell walked to load the bases with one out. Nick Driscoll reached on a fielder's choice when Moore could not make a tough play behind second base and Milanes came home to trim Army's lead to 3-2. Andrew Hahn came up next and grounded into a fielder's choice to plate Bland, and Moore's throw to first to attempt the double play sailed into the Army dugout to bring in Dupell with the go-ahead run as Navy claimed a 4-3 lead.
The Mids added an insurance run in the seventh when Alex Azor doubled in Dylan Wheeler to build Navy's lead to 5-3.
Navy reliever Preston Gainey kept the Black Knights off the board into the eighth inning. Gainey replaced starter Wes Olson with one out in the fifth and threw three scoreless innings with three strikeouts to pick up the victory.
Army put runners on 1st and 2nd with one out in the eighth when Navy called on Joel Rinehart to replace Gainey. After a groundout advanced the runners to 2nd and 3rd, Rinehart struck out Cody Murtle to end the threat and keep the score at 5-3.
Army made it interesting in the ninth, with Koenigsfeld singling and Moore getting hit by a pitch to put runners on 1st and 2nd with two outs. That brought Joey Henshaw to the plate, but Rinehart struck out the Army clean-up hitter to give Navy the Patriot League title.
Six Navy players accounted for the team's seven hits, with Bland going 2-for-4 with a run scored. Rinehart struck out three in his 1.2 innings of work to pick up the save.
Koenigsfeld went 3-for-5 with a run scored for Army, while Peterson was 2-for-3 with a run and an RBI. Starting pitcher Nick Dignacco did not allow an earned run in 4.1 innings of work. Gunnar Carroll took the loss for the Black Knights, giving up four runs, three earned, in place of Dignacco.
Navy and Army were meeting for the Patriot League Championship for the third time, with the Mids winning the meeting for a second time. Navy beat the Black Knights for the crown in 1994, while Army won it all in 2000 with all three series played in Annapolis.
The Mids also became the first top seed since 2007 to win the Patriot League title. The tournament shifted to its current four-team, two-weekend format in 2008, and the Mids were the first top seed to advance out of the semifinals under that setup.
After the game, Navy sophomore starting pitcher Ben Nelson was named the Patriot League Tournament Most Valuable Player. Nelson earned the victory in game one with just two earned runs allowed in 8.1 innings after pitching 10 scoreless innings in his start in the semifinal series against Bucknell. Nelson's 18.1 innings tied a Patriot League Tournament record, and he set a mark with 18 strikeouts in the tourney.
The following players were selected to the Patriot League All-Tournament team. Navy: Alex Azor, Nick Driscoll, Preston Gainey, Ben Nelson; Army; Joey Henshaw, Ben Koenigsfeld, Clint Moore; Lafayette Bobby Fargnoli, Zach Fritz; Bucknell; Ryan Ebner, Alex Cillo.
For more information on the entire Patriot League Tournament, including box scores and recaps from all of the games, go to the Patriot League Baseball Championship page