CNU Baseball Suffers Season Opening Loss to Piedmont, 7-6, After Walk-Off Single

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DEMOREST, Ga. – Carrying a 6-4 lead into the final inning, the Christopher Newport baseball team looked poised to open 2017 with a nice road victory, but the Captains allowed three runs in the bottom of the ninth to fall in walk-off fashion to the host Piedmont College Lions (2-1). Despite a solid start from senior Michael Thomas and a strong opening day performance by the offense, the Captains fall to 0-1 to start the year after the 7-6 final.
It is the first season opening loss since 2010 for the Captains, who are now 13-4 all-time on opening day under head coach John Harvell. The gut-wrenching loss came as the Captains' first of three games at the Piedmont College Early Spring Classic, being played at Loudermilk Field. 
Both teams got a runner on in the first, but nothing came of it as the starting pitchers each induced inning-ending double plays. In the second inning, both teams put a run on the board, highlighted by the first of the season for CNU. In the top of the 2nd, the Captains went up behind the first career home run from sophomore first baseman Nicholas BahamBaham's solo shot was answered by the Lions in the bottom half of the inning, when Collin Grant singled home Zach Langley for the home team.
The Captains teetered back in front with two runs in the top of the third. After sophomore catcher Ryan Grubbs delivered a lead-off single, he advanced to second on an error by the third baseman. The next batter, Joseph Cutchins, drove home Grubbs with an RBI single to put CNU on top, 2-1. Two batters later, Cutchins would trot home on an RBI single by sophomore Austin Henry.
Again the Lions answered in the bottom half of the inning, but Piedmont managed just one unearned run against Thomas, who escaped a small jam with a strikeout and groundball to end the inning. The CNU offense tacked on two more in the top of the fourth, pulling ahead 5-2. After Brandon Ginch walked, Baham delivered a single to move him up to third base. The next batter, sophomore right fielder Elliott Sledd, drove home Ginch with a single. After a pair of strikeouts, Cutchins drove home his second run of the game with a single, allowing Baham to trot home from second base.
Thomas cruised through the fourth, inducing his second inning-ending double play of the game after facing just three batters, and then went perfect in the bottom of the fifth as he retired three straight on groundouts. After the Captains added a run in the sixth, Thomas would finish out his day with another solid inning with a pair of strikeouts and a fielder's choice. His final line in the season-opening appearance was 6 innings, 4 hits allowed, 2 runs, 1 earned, with 4 strikeouts.
Piedmont scored twice in the 7th inning to pull within two, 6-4, with back-to-back two-out RBI knocks. Brady Ballstadt scored Caleb Norton on an RBI triple, and then came home on a double by Tyler Burdette. CNU reliever Ryan Powell escaped further damage with a groundball to end the inning, keeping CNU in front.
The Captains threatened to add to their lead in the top of the eighth, loading the bases against relievers David Craft and Seth George, but all three were left stranded as George induced an infield fly and a pop fly to end the inning. For CNU, junior reliever Joe Burris allowed a lead-off single to start the bottom of the eighth, but then promptly struck out a pair and finished off the inning by getting Norton to sky a pop fly to the shortstop.
After going quietly in the top half of the inning, the Captains called on junior Craig Johnson for his first save opportunity of the year in the bottom of the ninth. Johnson saw the first runner reach via an error before he disposed of Noah Heatherly with a strikeout. He then worked into a jam after walking Ballstadt, and giving up a single to Burdette to load the bases. Griffin Olson cut the lead in half with an RBI groundball to the shortstop, and the Lions tied the game on a wild pitch. With the winning run just 90 feet from home, Andrew Burden delivered the game-winning blow with a single to end the game.
CNU outhit the Lions, 11-9, and committed just two errors compared to four by the home team. Thomas was saddled with a no decision, while Piedmont starter, Max Bening, escaped the loss after giving up five earned runs on eight hits in just four innings of work. Seth George (1-0) got the win in relief, while Johnson (0-1) suffered the setback for CNU.
Christopher Newport will be back in action on Saturday, looking to bounce back against sixth-ranked Birmingham-Southern College at 1:00 pm. The Captains will then wrap up their appearance in the Early Spring Classic as they face Methodist University on Sunday, February 12, with first pitch scheduled for Noon.