Navy Sweeps Rider with Sunday Walk-Off
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Navy baseball team completed its three game sweep of Rider on Sunday with an exciting come from behind 4-3 victory in 10 innings. Down to their final strike in the bottom of the ninth trailing 3-2, the Mids (12-4) received a game-tying RBI from Christian Hodge (Jr., Winder, Ga.) before Stephen Born (Sr., Strafford, Pa.) came through with the game-winning hit in the bottom of the 10th to defeat the Broncs (4-10) at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium.
Navy got solid contributions from throughout its team on Sunday as the Mids’ offense tallied 13 hits, its defense turned three double plays and its pitching staff struck out nine Broncs.
Outside of their late game theatrics, Hodge and Born were pivotal parts of Navy’s offense throughout the game as Hodge went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs, while Born was 2-for-5 with the game-winning RBI. On the field, Born played a key role in subduing a potential fourth run by Rider with a 9-2 double play with a putout at home plate off of his throw in from right field.
On the mound, junior Andrew Sauer (Johns Creek, Ga.) pitched into the seventh inning and allowed just two runs to keep Navy in the competitive low-scoring game. He struck out five Broncs over his outing. Freshman Sante Grossi (Riverside, Calif.) did the job for the Mids on the back side of the game as he hurled 3.0 hitless and scoreless innings of relief with four strikeouts.
“That was a great game,” exclaimed head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. “Win or lose that’s a great game. It was really well played on defense and pitching was really good on both sides. Offensively, it came down to moving runners and clutch hits. That was the game in a nutshell.
“Born’s assist from the outfield was huge because that keeps it a one-run game as opposed to a two-run game. Our infield turned a few big double plays earlier in the game to get us out of some jams. It was just a well-played game.”
Unlike the prior two games in the series that saw Navy tally first inning runs, it was Rider who was able to break into the scoring column first on Sunday. After a leadoff fly out to centerfield the Broncs rattled off four straight singles to make it 1-0. Further damage was averted when Zach Biggers (So., Walhalla, S.C.) turned an inning-ending 4-3 double play from second base.
Navy looked to immediately responded in the bottom of the first and nearly did as Born and Jacob Williamson (So., Sims, N.C.) reached base, though both were stranded.
The Mids threatened Zach Gakeler, the Broncs’ starting pitcher, with runners on base in each of his five innings on the mound. It wasn’t until the bottom of fourth that that pressure resulted in a run. Down 2-0 at the time, Hodge, Liam Lowery (Jr., Williamsburg, Va.) and Michael Coritz (So., Clifton, Va.) all recorded singles off Gakeler. Coritz’ knock up the middle turned into a run as Hodge came in to score.
With the score 2-1, Navy knotted the game at two runs a piece with a pair of doubles in the bottom of the fifth. Williamson got the rally going with a one-out double to left-center field. Two batters later, the third baseman came into score on a double down the left field line by Hodge.
Getting stronger as the game went on and powered by the newly-tied game, Sauer came out in the sixth inning and struck out two Rider batters in the top of the frame. He made it a streak of three strikeouts over four batters as he sat down Dallas Clark to start the top of the seventh.
With both teams into their bullpens, Navy challenged for the go-ahead run in bottom of the seventh with a pair of singles, but Rider’s reliever Jordan Silverman pitched around the trouble to keep the game tied at 2-2.
The Broncs opened the top of the eighth with purpose as the first three batters all reached via singles. With the bases loaded and no outs, Grossi was summoned from the bullpen to navigate the tense situation. He started off his unenviable task with a swinging strikeout of Tyler Stockwell. He forced the next batter, Richie Tecco, into a ground ball to shortstop, but unfortunately it was hit a hair too softly so Coritz, Biggers and Ben Lowe (Fr., Memphis, Tenn.) were unable to turn the 6-4-3 double play in time to get out of the inning. Down 3-2, Grossi left nothing up for debate in the next at bat as he got his second strikeout of the inning.
The game continued at a 3-2 score through the bottom of the eighth and top of the ninth. The scene was set for drama in the bottom of the ninth. After the first batter of the frame was retired, Biggers threw his hands in a defensive two-strike swing and came away with an infield single to third base. A fly out to centerfield quickly made it two outs and turned Navy’s chances of a comeback that much more difficult. Unfazed by the situation, Evan Lowery (So., Williamsburg, Va.) drew a full-count walk to put runners on first and second. The next batter was Hodge. Down to his final strike in a full-count, Hodge calmly stroked a single through the left side of the infield to score Biggers from second.
Reinvigorated by their game-tying run in the bottom of the ninth, the Mids and Grossi quickly disposed of the Broncs in the top of the 10th in order with a ground out and two strikeouts. The ground out was noteworthy as Biggers ranged significantly to his right, slid, popped up and fired a strike to first base to nail the runner.
In the bottom of the 10th, Alex Smith (So., Stafford, Va.) started the rally when he drew a hit by pitch in the first pitch of the inning. Following a sacrifice bunt by Coritz advanced Smith to second, Logan Knowles (Sr., Port Orchard, Wash.) was intentionally walked to set up a potential double play. Born made sure that wouldn’t come into play as he laced a single through the right side of the infield for the game-winning walk-off.
For the game, Navy outhit Rider, 13-12. Hodge (3), Born (2) and Biggers (2) all recorded multiple hits on the day. In total, nine different Mids tallied hits off of Rider pitching.
“Hodge was a solid offensive player for us all weekend,” remarked Kostacopoulos. “He was right around our offense making things go and had bunch of key hits all series. It’s nice to see him come on because we certainly need that in our lineup moving forward.”
Sauer got a no-decision for his starting efforts. The junior right-hander threw 6.2 innings with nine hits, two walks, two runs and five strikeouts. In relief, Grossi was declared the victor after going 3.0 innings, with no hits, one walk, no runs and four strikeouts. Through five relief appearances and 9.2 innings on the mound this season, Grossi has struck out 18 batters and held opponents to a .194 batting average.
“That was a huge relief effort by Sante,” said Kostacopoulos. “He came into a tight situation with the bases loaded and started with a key strikeout. He got the ground ball that we were looking for, but it was just hit a little too softly to turn a double play. Having them [Rider] come away with only one run was really important. One run isn’t insurmountable; two or three would’ve been a lot tougher.”
This was the final weekend series for the Mids before turning their attention to seven straight weeks of Patriot League play beginning with a road series at Bucknell next Saturday and Sunday in Lewisburg, Pa. Before the Mids and Bison face off, the team will play a pair of non-conference mid-week tilts. Navy will travel to Maryland Eastern Shore on Wednesday, March 14 at 3 p.m. before heading to Delaware State on Thursday for a 3 p.m. contest.