March 31, 2012

Army Sweeps Doubleheader From Navy

ANNAPOLIS, Md. - Chris Rowley pitched a one-hit shutout in the first game, and Nick Dignacco fired 5.1 scoreless innings in the nightcap as the Army baseball team swept a Patriot League doubleheader from Navy on Saturday afternoon at Max Bishop Stadium.

Army (17-7, 2-0 PL) posted a 2-0 win in the opening contest and recorded a 6-2 triumph in the second game as the Black Knights secured their ninth straight series star.

"It was obviously a very good day for us," said Army head coach Joe Sottolano. "We're blessed to have won another star, and we're extremely proud of that. At the same time, our goals as a program are to win each game and every day. We're excited about winning the star, but we have two more games tomorrow.

"We manufactured runs and came up with big hits in both games, and I thought that was the key to our success offensively today," added Sottolano. "We made some big strides off of Wednesday's game at Columbia. We came up with some clutch hits when we needed them and I thought we really competed at the plate throughout the doubleheader against a very good Navy team. Navy's a very talented baseball team on the mound at the plate and defensively. We know they'll come out tomorrow and play hard, and we're going to have to play our best baseball in order to compete and win."

Rowley (6-0) faced just two over the minimum en route to his sixth straight win. The junior righty, who carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning, struck out five batters and did not allow a walk. Rowley retired 15 straight batters at one point and did not yield a hit until there were two outs the sixth. He out dueled Navy ace Ben Nelson (1-2), who permitted two runs on six hits over seven frames.

"Chris set the tone on the mound, and I thought he was in complete command throughout his start," said Sottolano. "He seized the opportunity, he pitched to win and he did it throughout the entire ballgame. I'm very proud of his effort today."

Mark McCants was the offensive star in the first game as the freshman drove home Army's first run of the contest in the first inning and scored the Black Knights' second run in the fourth. Army finished with six hits in the game, while Navy was limited to Alex Azor's single in the sixth inning.

Army pushed across what proved to be the game-winning run in the top of the first inning to take an early 1-0 lead. Zach Price reached on an infield single leading off the game, moved to second base on Daniel Cortes' sacrifice bunt and scored when McCants delivered a two-out RBI single through the right side of the infield.

The Black Knights pushed across an insurance run in the top of the fourth inning to make it 2-0. McCants drew a leadoff walk, moved to second base on Cody Murtle's sacrifice bunt, advanced to third on a wild pitch and scored on Alex Jensen's RBI.

The run support was more than enough for Rowley, who seemed to be on cruise control from the outset.

"I was able to keep the ball down today, and I got a lot of ground balls," said Rowley. "I didn't necessarily have my best stuff, but I was able to locate my pitches and the defense did a really good job behind me.

Rowley ran into minor trouble in the sixth inning as Navy put runners on the corners with two outs. The Duluth, Ga., native was able to retire Andrew Hahn on a grounder to second base to end the threat, and he retired the Midshipmen in order in the seventh to nail down his second complete game shutout of the season.

Rowley was happy to have contributed to Army doubleheader sweep.

"I think that's awesome," said Rowley of helping the Black Knights earn their ninth straight series star. "It just shows the emergence of our program. It's just a small sliver of an indication of what this program has become, and I think that's really special for us to have accomplished that nine years in a row."

Dignacco (2-2) picked up the victory in the nightcap as the sophomore lefty allowed just two hits over 5.1 scoreless innings. The second-year southpaw struck out four batters and walked three during his stint on the mound.

Kevin McKague earned a four-out save, escaping jams in both the eighth and ninth innings, to preserve the victory. The save was the 27th of his career, equaling Milan Dinga's Academy and Patriot League records.

"Kevin is a very talented ball player, and we're obviously happy that he's on our side," said Sottolano of his senior closer. "He's a talented young man who has worked extremely hard and gotten better throughout his Army career. To tie those records is very well-deserved, but Kevin would trade it all for another championship."

Price and McKague collected two hits apiece to lead the Black Knights' nine-hit attack in the nightcap. Andrew Johnson was on base four times in the contest and scored three runs.

After four scoreless frames, Army took a 2-0 advantage in the top of the fifth in the nightcap as the Black Knights pushed across two runs on three hits and one Navy error. Johnson reached on a two-base error by the Navy third baseman leading off the inning and he quickly moved to third on a wild pitch. Price promptly ripped an RBI single to center field to put Army on top, 1-0. Cortes followed with a base hit of his own, advancing Price to third base. McKague then delivered an RBI single up the middle to score Price and extend Army's cushion to 2-0.

The Black Knights tacked on two more runs in the top of the sixth to increase their lead to 4-0. Jensen walked leading off the inning, stole second base and scored on Johnson's base hit. Price then singled and McKague walked with two outs to load the bases. After a Navy pitching change, Johnson plated the second run of the inning when McCants reached on an error by the Mids' shortstop.

Navy got one run back in the bottom of the seventh as Chance Jones hit a one-out double and scored on Dylan Wheeler's base hit.

Army reestablished its four-run cushion in the top of the eighth inning as the Black Knights scored an unearned run to make it 5-1. Johnson walked leading off the frame, moved to second base on Price's sacrifice bunt and scored when Cortes reached on an error by the Navy second baseman.

Navy trimmed Army's lead to 5-2 in the home half of the eighth inning when Greg Dupell walked and later scored on Wheeler's base hit.

The Black Knights got that run right back in the top of the ninth as Patrick Mescher reached on an error, moved to second base on Murtle's sacrifice bunt and scored when Harold Earls lofted an RBI double down the left field line.

Navy loaded the bases in the bottom of the ninth inning, but McKague got Kash Manzelli to bounce out to shortstop to end the game.

Wheeler went 2-for-4 with a pair of RBI to lead the Midshipmen in the nightcap. Johnny Schoberl (3-2) was saddled with the loss after giving up four runs (two earned) on eight hits over 5.2 innings.

Army and Navy will play another doubleheader on Sunday, April 1, with the first game scheduled to get under way at 12 p.m. The opening contest will be televised to a national audience by CBS College Sports.

Game Notes: Army improves to 99-106 all-time versus Navy ... the Black Knights are 29-9 versus the Midshipmen over the last nine seasons ... Harold Earls has reached base in 21 straight games ... Earls is also riding a seven-game hitting streak ... Army pitching limited Navy to just six hits in today's doubleheader.

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