Navy Tripped Up in 16 Innings by Air Force, 11-10
KINSTON, N.C. – The 2018 Freedom Classic closed in dramatic fashion on Sunday as the Navy and Air Force baseball teams battled for 16 innings at Grainger Stadium. Tied at 10-10 after nine innings, the Mids (4-2) and Falcons (1-5) were held off the scoreboard until the 16th when Air Force scratched out a single run on a sacrifice fly to go ahead by the final score of 11-10.
A fast 9-0 start for the Mids was buoyed by Zach Biggers (So., Walhalla, S.C.), who opened the game 5-for-5 with three runs scored and two RBIs. Jacob Williamson (So., Sims, N.C.) also was a leading player in Navy’s offensive output on Sunday as he had two hits, including a three-run home run in the second inning.
On the mound, Andrew Sauer (Jr., Johns Creek, Ga.) gave Navy a 5.1-inning start with two hits and three runs allowed. The Mids’ extra-inning relief corps of Jack Ferguson (Fr., Atlanta, Ga.), Nicholas Elder (So., Roanoke, Va.) and Trey Seabrooke (So., Jacksonville, Fla.) bought the team significant time over innings 10 through 16. Together the trio hurled 7.1 innings and allowed just one run on five hits, while notching six strikeouts.
“It was a true college baseball game in every way today,” remarked head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. “We jumped out early, but it was real early and Air Force had some time to come back and they did. Then it became a marathon. It was one of those games where we had chances on defense to potentially win the game, but didn’t make the paly; we had chances on mound to get some outs, but didn’t get enough; we had chances on offense to score and extend runs, but didn’t do it. At the end of the day, it’s a frustrating 16-inning loss.”
The game began with Navy taking advantage of an extreme bout with wildness by Air Force’s starting pitcher John Byrnes. With Biggers on first base and two outs on the scoreboard the proverbial wheels fell off and the next five Mids all reached base, the first three via walks and the next two on hit by pitches. Christian Hodge (Jr., Winder, Ga.), Matthew Wilcox (Jr., Los Gatos, Calif.) and Alex Smith (So., Stafford, Va.) all were credited with RBIs during that run of play.
Three more runs came in for the Mids in the second inning, though in a much more efficient manner as Williamson smashed a deep home run over the right-center field wall to plate three. Those three RBIs gave the sophomore third baseman a total of 10 for the weekend versus the Falcons.
Up 6-0 through two innings, Navy’s offense kept the pressure on Air Force and scored three additional runs in the bottom of the third. A one-out walk by Michael Coritz (So., Clifton, Va.) got the rally going before a walk to Logan Knowles (Sr., Port Orchard, Wash.) put two runners on the base paths for Biggers. The sophomore second base kept his fast start going with a double to left-center field to score two. He promptly came around to score in the next at bat as Evan Lowery (So., Williamsburg, Va.) doubled to the right-center field gap.
With the score now 9-0, Sauer, the Mids’ starting pitching, did his best to keep his teammates swinging their hot bats as he set down the Falcons three-up, three-down in the top of the fourth. Unfortunately for Navy, Air Force finally found a recipe on the mound to spell success in the form of Shawn Kelley. The right-handed pitcher shut the Mids out over the fourth, fifth and sixth innings.
During Kelley’s appearance, the Falcons started chipping away at the nine-run deficit with two runs in the fifth inning and four in the sixth. Sauer left after 5.1 innings and was charged with three runs on two hits, three walks and a hit batter. The junior right-handed pitcher struck out one over his 80-pitch outing.
After seeing its advantage whittled down to three runs at 9-6, Navy added its 10th run in the bottom of the seventh. Wilcox led off the inning with a walk before being pinch run for by Jonah Llanusa (So., Choctaw, Okla.). The newly-inserted Llanusa came in to score on a double into the right field corner by Coritz. The top of the seventh also saw Biggers extend his hit streak to five straight at bats as he flaired a single into right. He became the 25th player in Navy history to reach that single-game milestone and first since Sean Trent on April 1, 2015.
Down to their final six outs in regulation, the Falcons battled for three runs in the eighth before knotting the game at 10-10 with a single run in the ninth.
From that point on the bullpens for both squads were locked down and posted zero after zero on the scoreboard. Ferguson was the first Navy pitcher to answer the call in extra-inning action as he navigated 3.2 innings into the 13th frame. The freshman left-hander went three-up, three-down in the 10th before pitching around a two-on, one-out situation in the 11th. He struck out Gabe Martinez and Rob Dau back-to-back to end the threat in that circumstance. After a quick 12th inning, he ran into a bit of trouble in the 13th as the first two Air Force batters reached with both advancing to second and third on a sacrifice bunt. With little room for error, Elder was summoned from the bullpen and got consecutive shallow fly outs to strand both runners.
Settled in to the 10-10 ballgame in the 14th, Elder tossed a clean three-up, three-down inning before coming out unscathed in the 15th courtesy of a 6-4-3 double play.
With their young bullpen holding the line, Navy’s offense struggled to find its footing versus Air Force’s new reliever, Ryan Holloway. After entering the game in the middle of the seventh and allowing a walk and hit to the first two batters he faced, the senior left-hander didn’t allow another hit to the next 23 Midshipmen batters. He threw 107 pitches over 6.2 innings to tide Air Force through the 14th inning.
Williamson broke Navy’s cold streak at the plate in the bottom of the 15th with a two-out single off of Air Force’s Jake Gilbert.
With the game well over five hours long and onto the 16th inning, the Falcons finally cracked the 10-10 tie with a sacrifice fly by Ryan Robb.
Navy tried valiantly to re-tie or earn the walk-off victory in the bottom of the 16th, but a one-out double by Stephen Thompson (Fr., Rock Hill, S.C.) went for naught as Gilbert buckled down and recorded a game-ending double play.
Elder was the hard-luck loser for Navy as the sophomore went 3.0 innings with one hit, two walks and one run allowed. He struck out two in the longest relief outing of his career. Ferguson’s final line was 3.2 innings, four hits, one walk and four strikeouts, while Seabrooke, the Mids’ last reliever, went 0.2 innings.
“Jack, Nick and Trey did a really good job in those late innings throwing up zeroes,” remarked Kostacopoulos. “They did a good job of pitching well in clutch situations. We hope that they can build on their outings and continue to improve. They were forced into the fire today. As a whole our staff will need to improve as our season goes along and those guys can play a role in that.”
For the game, Air Force outhit Navy, 15-13. Biggers’ career-high five hits led the way for the Mids, he finished 5-for-8. The school record for most hits in a game is six by Steve Mauro in 1993. Williamson gave Navy two players with multiple hits as he went 2-for-7.
“Zach was really swinging the bat well today,” said Kostacopoulos. “Jake swung it well too today and all weekend. Those two certainly stood out.
“It’s still early in the year so we still have a lot of work to do in all facets of the game moving forward.”
Sunday’s contest and its 16 innings is tied for the second longest in the 122-year history of Navy baseball. The all-time mark is 17 in 1949 versus Harvard. 16 innings tie the 2011 postseason contest versus Bucknell on May 14 for second longest.
Navy will be back on the field with a quick turnaround and mid-week non-conference tilts at home this Tuesday and Wednesday. The Mids’ first action at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium in 2018 will come against the UMBC Retrievers on Tuesday at 2 p.m. before the team hosts the Coppin State Eagles on Wednesday at 2 p.m.