Baseball Drops Opener of Patriot League Semifinals to Bucknell
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The showdown of two of the Patriot League’s top pitchers lived up to its billing on Saturday afternoon as Navy’s Noah Song and Bucknell’s Connor Van Hoose went head-to-head and turned in strong results in the first game of the best-of-three Patriot League semifinal series at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium. The matchup between the top-seeded Mids (37-16) and fourth-seeded Bison (20-26) went the way of the visitors by a final score of 4-1 as a brief 1-0 lead by Navy in the seventh inning couldn’t hold up before Bucknell responded in the top of the eighth with four runs.
“It was a 1-0 game late and that’s a credit to the pitchers as Noah pitched really well and Van Hoose was tremendous again,” remarked head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. “Bucknell bunched together some runners in the eighth and came up with a couple of clutch hits to score four runs. That was the game in a nutshell.
“We obviously need to bounce back tomorrow because this is a two out of three series so we know anything is possible. We just have to go to work.”
Song (So., Claremont, Calif.) led the Mids’ effort on Saturday as he hurled seven innings of shutout baseball before exiting in the eighth after the first two runners had reached. The right-hander’s final line was 7.0+ innings, eight hits, no walks and two runs allowed with seven strikeouts.
“Noah really pitched well in some pressure spots and he not only got out of those jams, but he got out of them with a strikeout, which meant that they didn’t get a chance to put the ball in play,” said Kostacopoulos. “He did a great job today.”
In a day controlled by pitching, Christian Hodge (So., Winder, Ga.) and Stephen Born (Jr., Strafford, Pa.) highlighted the offense for Navy as Hodge connected for a team-high two hits off of Van Hoose, while Born tallied the go-ahead run for the Mids in the seventh with a sacrifice fly.
As the game began, both offense’s struggled early and often to gain much of a footing versus the two All-Patriot League talents. Song, a second team honoree, retired the Bison three-up, three-down in the first inning on three ground outs, while Van Hoose, a first-teamer, put down the Mids with two ground outs and a strikeout.
After the quick first inning, Bucknell got the game’s first hit in the top of the second with a Keifer Rawlings’ single, but the Bison’s DH was eliminated before Song threw his next pitch with a pick off at first base. The sophomore hurler tallied his first strikeout to end the frame before starting off the third inning with two more punchouts.
The scoreless action continued through the fourth as Song pitched around three hits and Van Hoose was a perfect 12-for-12 in retiring Midshipmen batters.
In the fifth, Bucknell looked to break the 0-0 deadlock as Evan Klugerman hit a one-out double down the left field line. Song took care of that threat with a strikeout of Tyler Wincig and a weak ground out by Chuckie Scales to shortstop.
The fourth-seeded Bison challenged Song and the Mids again in the sixth with a leadoff single and a sacrifice bunt to put a runner on second with one out. A ground out and strikeout once again did the trick as Song got Rawlings looking with strike three to end the sixth.
Navy’s offense found its first bit of traction at the plate in the bottom of sixth when Hodge led off with a single through the left side. Bucknell got out of that situation as the Bison caught Hodge stealing in a missed bunt attempt.
Still 0-0 going into the seventh, Song dispatched of the first two hitters of the inning with a fly out and strikeout before Klugerman singled with two outs. In a rarity for Song, he recorded his second pick off of the game as he caught Klugerman leaning. Coming into Saturday, Navy had tallied seven total pickoffs over 52 games.
Navy broke its way onto the scoreboard in the bottom of the seventh as Logan Knowles (Jr., Port Orchard, Wash.) led off with a single up the middle before a wild pitch advanced him to second base. Following a groundout to the right side of the infield by Travis Blue (Sr., Orange, Calif.) that aided Knowles in getting to third base with one out Born lofted a fly ball to medium range left field to score Knowles.
The Mids’ 1-0 lead was short-lived as the Bison began the top of the eighth with consecutive batters reaching base. With runners on first and second and no outs, Jett Meenach (Sr., Flower Mound, Texas) was summoned from the bullpen. The pitching change did little to slow down Bucknell as Brett Smith and Danny Rafferty went back-to-back with a single and double, respectively to put the Bison ahead 3-1. Rafferty later came around to score the game’s final run on a two-out single by Luke Johnson.
With the score 4-1 in favor of Bucknell, Van Hoose closed out the victory as he retired six of the final seven Navy hitters to earn the complete game.
The action will continue on Sunday with game two of the best-of-three series slated for a 12:05 pm first pitch. If the Mids win that game and extend the series, the tie-breaking game three will begin 40 minutes following the conclusion of the first contest.
“We know we’re up against a good ball club in Bucknell and we know we have to play better,” said Kostacopoulos. “In this spot, we’re in an elimination game. We have to stay level-headed and play each inning. We have to go at it tomorrow.”
History may be on Navy’s side as the Mids have dropped the first game of the semifinals in each of the last two seasons before coming back and winning both games two and three in 2015 and 2016.