Navy Baseball Advances to Patriot League Finals with 4-1 Victory over Holy Cross
ANNAPOLIS, Md. – The Navy baseball team earned its third trip in four years to the Patriot League Championship Finals with a 4-1 victory over Holy Cross on Sunday. The Mids took an early 3-0 lead through three innings and rode the arm of Andrew Sauer (Jr., Johns Creek, Ga.) on their way to the victory. Buoyed by a stellar defensive effort, Sauer hurled a complete game five-hitter to lead the top-seeded Mids (38-14) over the fourth-seeded Crusaders (18-27) at Terwilliger Brothers Field at Max Bishop Stadium.
Having never thrown more than 7.0 innings in an outing prior to Sunday, Sauer scattered five hits and collected all 27 outs for the Mids on just 104 pitches. The junior right-handed pitcher gave up the lone run of the day in the sixth, walked no one and struck out a career-high nine batters.
On offense, Navy received hits from eight different players with the most important being a two-out two-RBI single in the bottom of the third inning by Jacob Williamson (So., Sims, N.C.). The Mids also saw Alex Smith (So., Stafford, Va.) collected an RBI on Saturday.
“Even though we only scored four runs, we were on them [Holy Cross] today," remarked head coach Paul Kostacopoulos. "We had guys in scoring position a bunch and had quite a few hard hits balls that forced them to make plays. We really kept the pressure on. We got a couple key at bats from Jake Williamson which was really good to see. While our offense did its job and scored four runs, today was about Andrew Sauer. The game rested on his shoulders today. He pitched as good as I’ve ever seen him pitch in a big, must-win game. That tells me an awful lot about him and the kind of competitor he is. We needed him today.
“Right out of the gate we were making plays on defense. On the first play of the game, Mike makes a real nice at shortstop and then an even better play on the next batter. We got our feet underneath us right away and played really good defense throughout.”
Navy set the tone early on the defensive side of the ball as Michael Coritz (So., Clifton, Va.) made two straight difficult plays at shortstop to retire Holy Cross in the top of the first inning. Following a two-out single, Sauer collected the first of his nine strikeouts with a swinging punchout of Thomas Russo.
Scoreless through one and a half innings, the Mids’ bats found some success in the bottom of the second as the hosts loaded the bases with no out versus the Crusaders’ starter Liam Dvorak. Smith took advantage of the situation with a RBI groundout to the shortstop. Consecutive put outs by Dvorak and Holy Cross kept the margin at 1-0 in favor of Navy.
The Mids quickly increased their lead to 3-0 in the bottom of the third when Zach Biggers (So., Walhalla, S.C.) led off with an infield single. A sacrifice bunt and later a hit by pitch to Christian Hodge (Jr., Winder, Ga.) put runners on first and second with one out for Navy. After a groundout moved both Biggers and Hodge up 90 feet, Williamson came through with a clutch two-out single through the left side of the infield to plate both of his teammates.
Up 3-0, Sauer cruised over the fourth and fifth innings with back-to-back perfect frames with three groundouts, two fly outs and a strike three looking.
During that span of play, Navy continued keeping the pressure on Dvorak and Holy Cross and eventually chased the freshman hurler after 4.2 innings and seven hits. Coritz and Hodge reached base via a single in the fourth and double in the fifth, respectively, but were stranded.
Holy Cross’ first and only scoring chance of the game came in the top of the sixth inning. After not having a base runner reach second base over the first five innings versus Sauer, the Crusaders tallied a double and single in back-to-back at bats to push across its first run of the contest. A 4-6-3 double quickly eliminated any further scoring threats and ended the inning with the score now 3-1 in favor of Navy.
Over the final three innings, Sauer seemingly grew stronger with even greater confidence in his pitching, as well as in his defense as he retired the Crusaders nine-up, nine-down in the seventh, eighth and ninth innings. He struck out four Holy Cross batters, while Coritz made another slick play at shortstop in the top of the eighth with a diving snag, quick pop-up and throw to first base to rob Cam Meyer of a potential single through the left side hole in the infield.
Navy added an insurance run in the bottom of the eight when Evan Lowery (So., Williamsburg, Va.) led off with a double to right field. Following a groundout to the right side advanced him to third base, Lowery darted home on a wild pitch to make it 4-1. Smith nearly made it a 5-1 contest as the sophomore catcher laced a triple to centerfield that made its way to the wall past a diving Austin Masel. Smith tried to leg out an inside-the-park home run, but a well-executed and strong relay throw in from shallow centerfield nailed him at the plate.
In the 4-1 victory, Navy outhit Holy Cross, 9-5. Williamson notched a team-high two hits to lead a well-balanced Midshipmen attack.
With his complete game five-hitter, Sauer improved his record to 5-2 in 2018.
Navy will now advance to the Patriot League Championship Finals this coming weekend with a best-of-three series at Max Bishop Stadium versus the second-seeded Army Black Knights, who won their respective semifinal series with Bucknell, two games to one.
Game one of the series between the service academy rivals is set for Friday, May 18 at 1 p.m. Game two will be played on Saturday at 1 p.m., while an ‘if necessary’ game three will occur on Sunday at 1 p.m. Navy was last in the Patriot League Championship Finals in 2016 when the Mids defeated Holy Cross, two games to one on their way to clinching the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Championship tournament.
“We had to be emotionally tough throughout the weekend," said Kostacopoulos. "I think we got it from Stephen Born yesterday when we needed it and hung in there to live to play another game. That’s always important to remember in the playoffs.”
“Now its onto Army in the championship series. We were neck-and-neck with them all season and now we’ll get after for the title next weekend."