NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- After dropping the first game Thursday afternoon in a best-of-three championship series for the 2019 Capital Athletic Conference Baseball Title, the third-ranked Christopher Newport Captains outscored the fourth-seeded Penn State Harrisburg Lions, 24-9, in two games on Friday to secure the program's first ever CAC championship. The Captains (35-7) won game two, 8-4, to force a decisive game three for the conference crown and ran away with the series win, 16-5, in game three.
Playing on a beautiful spring day at Captains Park in front of a solid weekday crowd, the Captains earned the league's automatic berth into the NCAA Division III Baseball Championships and will make the team's 10th postseason appearance. It is the sixth conference championship in program history, but the first since joining the CAC in 2014. The Captains last won a league title as members of the USA South Athletic Conference in 2012.
Senior second baseman Joseph Cutchins led the way in the clinching victory, blasting a pair of home runs in a 3-for-4 performance with a career-high 9 RBI. Senior shortstop Nick DiNapoli also smashed a pair of homers and had three in the series to help pace the dominant Captains offense.
Cutchins became just the second player in program history to drive in as many as 9 runs in a game and is tied for second all-time at CNU (Matt Turner, 11). For the three-game championship series, Cutchins was 7-for-9 with 11 RBI, 6 runs, 3 doubles, and 2 home runs. He added two walks, a hit-by-pitch, a sacrifice fly and a stolen base while leading the Captains offense which scored 32 runs in the three-game set.
In the clinching victory, Cutchins' first home run, a three-run blast in the bottom of the fourth, would be the difference as CNU pulled ahead, 8-4, on the no-doubter to left field. The Captains would allow just one run in the final five innings, meaning the fourth inning round-tripper was the game-winning knock.
The offense was not finished though, and would go on to add eight more runs in the next two innings. In the fifth inning, the second baseman added his second three-run homer of the game and in the sixth, DiNapoli led off with a solo shot, his second of the game. CNU scored five runs in the sixth inning as Nicholas Baham singled and scored on a hard-hit single by Eric O'Brien through the left side of the infield. Cutchins then plated two more runs on a double to left center, scoring Ryan Grubbs and O'Brien , and came in to score on an error one batter later.
On the mound, junior lefty Brian Owens (3-1) picked up the win in relief, tossing a season-high 3.2 innings with three strikeouts. He scattered five hits and gave up just one run for the win. Sophomore Gray Goodrich closed out the game with two perfect innings, striking out a pair to finish out the win. Sophomore Nathan Clements started for CNU in game three and pitched into the fourth inning, allowing four runs on six hits against the dangerous Lions offense.
Ensuring CNU would even have a chance to raise the conference hardware with a game three, the Captains got strong pitching from three arms in the first game as well. First, Teddy Herbert allowed just two runs over four innings of action before giving way to first team All-Conference reliever Tyler Jumper. Jumper showed off why he was honored as the league's top bullpen arm by retiring the first 13 batters he faced, pitching into the ninth inning. Miguel Torres spoiled his perfect outing with a single to center in the ninth. After a two-run single by Bret Williams, the Captains called on Owens in a four-run game with one on and one out. The junior reliever walked the first batter before striking out Ryan McSorley and Zak Koroneos to close out the game two win.
Jumper earned the win, his seventh of the season, all out of the bullpen.
On the offensive side, the Captains took a 2-0 lead after the top of the third, and then made it 6-1 in the fourth. Insurance runs were scored in the seventh and eighth innings as CNU scored eight runs on six hits.
Before his exceptional offensive day began, Cutchins also made a highlight-reel defensive play early in the first game. In the second inning, Casey Winters hit a screaming line drive that looked destined for outfield grass, but the Captains' keystone lifted off and snagged the liner to steal a base hit away.
CNU got on the board first when Ryan Grubbs led off the third with a hard-hit single into center field and moved up to second on a groundball by O'Brien. After a wild pitch, JCutchins delivered a sacrifice fly to deep center field to put the Captains on the board. Then, continuing their season-long trend of scoring with two outs, the next three batters reached for the Captains as they took a 2-0 lead. Conner Clark was hit by a pitch, Seth Woodard worked a walk, and Nick DiNapoli laced an 0-2 pitch into right center field for an RBI single. This season, CNU has 190 RBI with two outs, hitting .343 as a team while accounting for nearly 40% of the team's scoring.
Teddy Herbert worked in and out of jams through the first four innings, leaving the bases loaded in the first, third, and fourth. He got out of a big spot in the bottom of the third after the Lions cut the lead in half and loaded the bases with one out. First, facing Koroneos, Herbert worked into a favorable count and blew away the Lions hitter with a strikeout swinging on a high fastball. Then, against Casey Winters, Herbert stranded all three runners with another K, this time looking at a wicked breaking ball on the outside corner.
In the bottom of the fourth, he again faced runners in scoring position with less than two outs when he took on CAC Player of the Year Bret Williams. After falling behind Williams, Herbert battled back and struck out the Lions slugger for the second out. He then induced an inning-ending foul out to the first baseman as he wiggled out of trouble again.
Patience at the plate led to a four-run fourth as CNU earned five walks, including two bases loaded RBI free passes for Woodard and DiNapoli. Grubbs also picked up a sacrifice fly and Clark scampered home on a wild pitch as CNU built the lead to five runs. Accounting for the final two runs, CNU got an RBI double from O'Brien in the seventh and Seth Woodard's 10th home run of the season in the eighth.
Christopher Newport has now scored over 500 runs on the season for the first time in program history, with 509 trips across home plate. The all-time numbers continue to fall for the Captains both as a team and individually; Woodard has 55 walks this season, closing in on the top-ten in Division III history, and Grubbs ranks second all-time at CNU with 42 BB. Three Captains have entered the top-ten all-time in single season runs scored, and 2019 also marks just the second season in program history that two different players have provided 60+ RBI in the same year.
All six conference titles in CNU baseball history have been won under the guidance of head coach John Harvell, who is in his 19th season at the helm for the Captains. The two-time CAC Coach of the Year has led CNU to a 35-win season for the fifth time and 120 wins over the last four years.
With the loss, Penn State Harrisburg falls to 32-13-1 overall this season and will await decision by the NCAA National Championship committee to see if they have done enough to earn an at-large berth into regional play.
For CNU, the nation's top scoring offense will look to carry the championship momentum into NCAA Regional play next weekend. The Captains will await the NCAA Selection Show on Monday, May 13 to learn where and when the first round action will be played, along with their opening round opponent. More information will be released at CNUsports.com as it is made available by the NCAA.